Sunday, January 30, 2005

Comments to posts after class #2

I feel like Russell's cultural literacy questions are outdated. I don't know if anyone needs to know, anymore, about who invented the cotton gin. I think they might need to know who invented hypertext before they need to know that.

A point from class: I do not think that Friere--because who encourages democratizing education--means that content should not be taught. No where does he say that.

And I agree with Kristen, who decides what information is on that list. I also liked how she said everyone has their niche. That statements makes me think of Foucault's the correct training. Because the people in power would much prefer for you to think there was some list of information that you need to know before you are part of society. The cultural elite can marginalize you by saying "you don't know what is on that list" although you may know a lot of other stuff. The power comes from the list maker. Whomever decides what is on the list has the power. The list can discipline people and keep them in line. Well, I don't know about bananas so I better not go to the fruit department in the grocery store (or some example like that).

Kristen writes:
"I think that oftentimes, students feel that paper-writing is an extremely solitary experience, one in which they are left all alone to produce something provocative and informative and intelligent -- and so they forget that eveything they've been doing in class is supposed to help them with the daunting paper-writing task."

I totally agree. Somehow they have the idea that writing is easy for everybody except them and that writing is solitary--no talking, working alone in a room for hours, and writing for this person--the teacher--who they don't really know and don't know what or how to say. Maybe teachers don't do a very good idea of explicitly explaining how the assignments in class go together--maybe those teachers aren't making the goals explicit and saying "okay, we did this assignment because it should help you do this--or maybe know the next step is to...

So, I think teachers need to do a better job explaining how what they have been doing in class is supposed to help them with the "daunting paper-writing task" at hand.

Volcanoes, frogs, and lucid dreaming are topics that students say that they write about in science class as purely informational papers with no real argument. I also recently received a paper about lucid dreaming with no argument--just information on Tibetan dream yoga and lucid dreaming. It was just plagiarized mostly--source after source after source without really saying anything or making any argument.

From Kristina's post:
"We have to assign them a specific topic. It would be great if we could let them write about a topic of their choice, but plagiarism and time restraints being what they are, a set topic is necessary."

I have found that plagiarism is much more prevalent if you are assigning a specific topic. We (us in the class) rarely are asked to write on a specific topic, especially for research. If students choose the topic, they are more likely to have a personal investment and not plagiarize. But it isn't as easy as saying, well pick a topic on your own. Their first choices many times will be common topics that everyone would pick. My first car wreck. My first date. My vacation. Especially in composition, I believe it is important to help students dig down below the surface, wallow in complexity, and find out what they really need to know. You would think that students would not need help in that, but I think in high school many times students are not asked to wallow in complexity and find a topic that means something. They look for the topic that they think teachers want them to write about.

I think you will see better writing if they choose the topic and if you guide them to find a topic that asks the hard question. There is this awesome video that the class should see--Donna might have it, and they talk with Harvard students after they graduate and they discuss freshman composition and how much it helped them. One student on the video says, write what is hard. Write about the most difficult thing. Don't pick the easy thing." That is great advice.

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