Monday, March 07, 2005


I heard him speak at the composition conference we went to in Santa Barbara. He gave an uninspired and rambling speech. Later in the afternoon, I asked a woman if the coffee was still hot. He was three feet away and said, "It doesn't matter if the coffee is hot. We have coffee. That is all that matters. You should be happy that there is still coffee." I disagree so much on this point that it caused me to lose respect for the man. He didn't realize how seriously I take the temperature of coffee and how seriously I take coffee in general. So when I read his article I turned up my nose a bit because I have serious reservations about anyone who would make a statement like that, regardless of the Ph.D. in Physics and English. He can't be that smart if he would say something like that.

But I read the article. I do agree with him that we need to teach students how to respond and argue with the text. He and Kantz both had some good things to say. There is also a chapter in Allyn and Bacon that outlines questions for analyzing and critiquing sources that would be very handy. They ask great questions. It's funny that I'm reading these chapters right now because I have been struggling to get the students to really questions their sources. I think this dialectic needs to be modeled by the teacher.

Here's an idea: Pass out the A&B questions on critiquing and analyzing sources. Have each student bring in a source--enough copies for each person in the class. If you don't want to have them make copies, you could have them write a section of the source on the board for everyone to see. The teacher can then interrogate the text. The teacher may also need to interrogate the student a little bit.

These articles made me think about a student who I talked to in class today. I was asking her to argue with a source. She said, "Well, it's really hard because it is all facts." I started questioning her about the rhetorical purpose. Although the source seems to be purely facts, I asked her the author's purpose behind writing about this. Kantz writes, "Like many people, Shirley believes that you can either agree or disagree with issues and opinions, but you can only accept the so-called facts. She believes that facts are what you learn from textbooks, opinions are what you have about clothes, and arguments are what you have with your mother . . . ." I think I am teaching them that critical eye. Now, teaching this thinking and modeling this thinking is very hard to do. This can be frustrating. You may find in your classes that few students have been asked to believe and doubt the text or as A&B says go with the grain and against the grain.

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