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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: October ::
Re: Student Essays/Topics
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1911  Tuesday, 10 October 2000.

[1]     From:   Marilyn Bonomi <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Oct 2000 11:53:04 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1897 Re: Student Essays/Topics

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 09 Oct 2000 20:36:30 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1897 Re: Student Essays/Topics


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marilyn Bonomi <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
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Date:           Monday, 9 Oct 2000 11:53:04 -0400
Subject: 11.1897 Re: Student Essays/Topics
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1897 Re: Student Essays/Topics

I was going to stay out of this one, but in the spirit of "I don't say
my middle school colleagues don't teach the kids X, so please don't say
I don't teach them Y" I can't.

I speak only for myself and my colleagues at one particular public high
school: Amity Regional #5 Senior High School in Woodbridge CT.  However,
I suspect that many other high schools in the US have teachers of
English who attempt to teach what we teach.

To begin with, all of us require that students cite text AND explain the
significance of that text in terms of their thesis statement.  We teach
a very structured expository model where students are expected to
present a general statement of topic, a specific thesis statement about
that topic, and some indication of the scope of evidence to be
presented.  And most of us literally put a minimum requirement of # of
citations required.  (There are now *3* members of the department 9-12
who teach it "my" way-- my former student teacher and two other teachers
he mentored <grin>.)

I agree that some of the problem comes from the old inverted pyramid
teaching approach.  To work, that pyramid has to be restricted to the
intro paragraph, and then students encouraged to make their most
powerful arguments at the end of the paper.

I also know, from having spent too many years UNteaching what one
colleague taught, that the problem persists... her favorite students
came to my Honors class having learned to write 4 pages of generic
bullshit, realize they'd almost reached the end, throw in a semi-thesis
statement, a couple of quick specific references to the text, and
close.  Horrors! And she just this year has managed to get a book
published about How to Write Essays.  <shuddering>

But I will tell you that my -- OUR -- students go to Northeastern, and
Northwestern, and Yale and  the local community college, and all the
stops, both geographic and academic, in between.  And they come back
reporting that they were well-prepared for the expectations in their
English classes.

Personally, I have always given prompts that either are the statement of
a critic about a work (Leslie Fiedler asserts that "xxxxx."  Support or
refute this statement using specific references to the text.. texref's..
for support) or a small passage from the text (Romeo says "O I am
fortune's fool!"  Is he correct?  If so demonstrate how Fortune and not
human action causes  his problems.  If not, whose fool is he?).

And many of my colleagues do the same.

Do we always get what we ask for? Of course not!

But it isn't necessarily the case that US educators are not teaching the
techniques of insightful and supported textual response.

No one would get a passing grade in my classes for the papers you are
describing. What they'd get was an "IP" for In Progress, a paper needed
major revision before it was ready to be graded.

Of course, after 35 years of this effort I have thrown up my hands and
given up teaching "English."  Instead, other than a team-taught
interdisciplinary course on the roots of Western Culture, I'm out of the
field; now I teach web design and networking. Hah! No more essays!
Well, except for Humanities, where I must return now to grade 27
Personal Manifestos and 27 Wisdom Texts.  Bah!

Marilyn Bonomi

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 09 Oct 2000 20:36:30 -0700
Subject: 11.1897 Re: Student Essays/Topics
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1897 Re: Student Essays/Topics

I enjoyed Michael Harrawood's account of his student who was horrified
to have to cite a source, rather than retail a prejudice:

> Recently, after identifying herself to my class as a Christian and a
> Republican, a
> Freshman in an honors seminar said she thought Petrarch was "stuck up"
> for going on and on about climbing a mountain.  When I asked her to read
> me a line from the assignment that might have given her that idea she
> looked at me with real horror.  It was a new day.  But clearly, the move
> into persona and into personal evaluation is something she expected a
> lit class to reward.

I'm wondering if perhaps we, as teachers, brought this sort of response
on ourselves by encouraging students to speak from their own
perspectives, and then taking it upon ourselves to affirm whatever comes
out.  We might, moreover, have done something rather similar as
scholars, in viewing the text as a "hostile otherness", to be read
against and resisted.  Both tendencies, though they had laudable
original aims, seem to produce a narcissistic criticism, in which the
text becomes merely the occasion for the critic to talk about himself,
or his/her own views, rather than to be challenged and discomfited, as
by another person.

Cheers,
Se

 

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