Friday, December 14, 2012

Random Notes from a Crank

If you get a chance, check out this short article in Forbes from 2011: "Why Trying to Learn Clear Writing in College is Like Trying to Learn Sobriety in a Bar." While Ellsberg creates a strawperson about humanities professors (or presents a blanket/hasty generalization), especially because he's speaking from the viewpoint of an Ivy League grad, it's a damning portrait that provoked and will probably continue to provoke responses. Thanks to Dr. Kim of Pros Write for passing this along on 12/12/12. 

I rarely talk about my work on this blog because I usually don't want to "go there." In general, I've wanted PlannedOb to be a place for my other interests in life. However, this week provided the highs and lows of what I do. My group of first-year students, as a whole, did fine jobs on their final portfolios, which made me feel good about what they learned this semester and their prospects next semester. One group in my other class, however, did a half-assed job on their final report. In fact, when I met with two of the group members on Thursday, I told them that if I were to receive a report like theirs in a business setting, I would start thinking about ways to fire them. A finals week of pumping sunshine and bringing the pain. 

Some people like to use online systems to sort out their schedules. I, however, am old fashioned. On Wednesday, I bought a new weekly planner and perused 2013 wall calendars. Take that 21st century practices. Huzzah to old technology. 

My son, in his ongoing quest to repeat all kinds of stuff he hears, was funny Thursday morning when shot out his index fingers at Mrs. Nasty and said, "What's happenin', hot sauce?" 

I finished David O. Stewart's American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America a little while ago. I highly recommend the book if you're someone who likes reading about history. Aaron Burr, what a character. He was a fellow who was close to becoming President of the United States over Jefferson in 1800, and then after he was no longer Vice President and after his duel with Hamilton, he hatched a plan that he thought would separate the western part of the US to become its own country along with acquiring grand chunks of Mexico and Florida. And he got off. He beat the rap at his treason trial (thanks, in part, to Chief Justice John Marshall). But the biggest villain might have been General James Wilkinson. Stewart's book reads like a cross between history and detective work because Burr, a highly successful lawyer, was smart not to leave solid records of his true intentions. And when he did leave records, his intentions to various people provide mixed messages. Burr was known to repeat the maxim, "Things written remain." Indeed. 

Now it's on to shuffling my reading life among Everyday Genres: Writing Assignments Across the Disciplines by Mary Soliday, The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us by James W. Pennebaker, and The Beautiful Wishes of Ugly Men: Stories by Adam Prince. 


Babe Runner said...

I also do wall calendars and notebooks. None of that not-so-new-anymore-fangled electronic nonsense for me.

Great top 20 album list, btw.

That Forbes article: annoying in a number of ways. 1) As you pointed out, he speaks from the point of view of an Ivy Leaguer, and I am so very sick and tired of people talking about that small handful of schools as representing all of Higher Ed. 2) Peter Elbow? Wow, there's an amazing new discovery. Dude, please. Things I'm Very Sick and Tired of Part 2 would be people who think they alone know the secret to good writing that has eluded all those ineffectual intellectuals. 3) Some other stuff, but that's enough of a rant. If I go on any longer I'll have to get my own blog. Oh, wait...

Sandy Longhorn said...

Q. I failed at using e-calendars a long time ago. Long live the paper copy. As for the article, was this addendum in the article when you read it? I'm glad he put it in there, but it makes me sad. Also, yes, very biased for top tier schools. He should come see what goes on in a CC classroom. :)

Fellow cranky-pants!

[Note: commenter dcmadden below points out that composition professors in general do try to help their students avoid the swampy prose I'm talking about here. Fair enough. Thus, in college students are getting mixed messages about writing: the one or two composition professors they might encounter in four years try to teach them to write crisp, lively prose, and with rare exception all other humanities and social science professors in the rest of their studies--including full professors of literature--encourage them to ape the academic version of the Official Style, which these professors are churning out themselves in their "research."]

Quintilian B. Nasty said...

Thanks for the responses.

Here are some other complications about the Forbes article.

"Good writing" aligns with the values, assumptions, ways of knowing, research methodologies, and styles of specific discourse communities. "Good" is a social construct.

Academics need to do a better job of communicating their research to a wider community (the general public and legislators), however.

Mike Rose should be lauded for his work on that front.

The author of the Forbes seems unaware of the discipline and scholarship of rhetoric and professional/technical communication.