Class Report: ENGL 135, 21 April 2018

For the final meeting of the session, class was given largely to completion of the reflective postscript. Student questions were entertained and comments made about work as appropriate.

Students are reminded that the final component of the Course Project is due before the end of day Saturday, 21 April 2018.

The class met as scheduled, at 0900 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed 13 students, unchanged since last class; one attended, assessed informally. Class participation was as could be expected for the circumstances. No students attended Monday office hours.

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Class Report: SPCH 275, 18 April 2018

For the final meeting of the session, class was given largely to refinement of the final component of the course project. Student questions were entertained and comments made about work as appropriate.

Students are reminded that the final component of the Course Project is due before the end of day Saturday, 21 April 2018.

The class met at 1800 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus, the better to use needed technology. The course roster listed five students enrolled, unchanged from last week; four attended, assessed informally. Class participation was as expected for the events of the day. No students attended Monday office hours.

Class Report: ENGL 135, 14 April 2018

After addressing questions from the previous meeting, discussion turned to concerns of revision, discussing correctness, clarity, concision, and euphony. Examples were examined, and student questions addressed.

Students were also reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions, due online before 0059 on 16 April 2018
  • Course Project: Final Draft, due online as a Word document before 0059 on 16 April 2018
  • Course Project, Reflective Postscript, due online as a Word document before 1159 on 21 April 2018

Submission guidelines for the assignments are in the course shell.

The class met as scheduled, at 0900 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed 13 students, unchanged since last class; five attended, assessed informally. Class participation was reasonably good. No students attended Monday office hours.

Class Report: SPCH 275, 11 April 2018

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting, discussion turned to concerns of occasional speeches. Examples of speeches were considered, along with concerns of audience and content. Discussion ranged far afield.

Students were also reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions, due online before 0059 on 16 April 2018
  • Week 7 Homework, due online as a Word file before 0059 on 16 April 2018
  • Week 8 Presentation, due online before 0059 on 21 April 2018

Submission guidelines for the assignments are in the course shell.

The class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 108 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed five students enrolled, a decline of one from last week; three attended, assessed informally. Class participation was somewhat less robust than in previous weeks. No students attended Monday office hours.

In Response to Eric Schwitzgebel

On 4 June 2014, Eric Schwitzgebel’s “A Theory of Jerks” appeared on Aeon.com. In the piece, Schwitzgebel articulates a need for a theory of jerks before noting being in possession of one. He then advances a working definition and partial history of the term “jerk” before addressing the validity of his professorial approach to the topic. The article then situates jerkiness amid psychological constructions and in contrast to its antithesis–for Schwitzgebel, the “sweetheart”–before laying out overall justification for its treatment of jerkiness. Qualifications of the argument follow, and Schwitzgebel then notes the hierarchical direction of jerkiness before isolating a particular sub-set of jerks and concluding with a call to action for people to recognize and work against their own jerkiness. In all, the piece is an engaging read in the tradition of Frankfurt’s On Bullshit (which the article references, if briefly), one that displays, through its informed treatment of the mundane, some of the best features of public intellectualism.

I used the article with my class on 31 March 2018, having come across it earlier that week and deciding that the topic would make it of interest to my students. (That it references Frankfurt also attracted attention; I have done some taurascatological work from time to time, and the similarities delighted me.) After working through some of the vocabulary–Schwitzgebel writes as a professor, and my students are not yet so adept as that–they latched onto the piece tightly, wringing much from it and prompting a discussion that lasted for the better part of an hour. (Generally, the students will address topics for only fifteen to twenty minutes at a time, unless prodded.) They were able to identify a primary audience for the piece (to paraphrase, intellectual or pretentiously intellectual mainstream elite or elite-aspirant men), as well as its stated and tacit purposes, as well as to identify points of failure for the primary and other audiences. And their collective analysis of the piece helped to point out gendering of language (“jerk” and “sweetheart” both read as gendered to the students, as did some other terms in the piece), as well as to explore some of the parallels of academe to the broader working world. In all, it was a useful exercise, and it is one to which I think I will return with students in such classes in the future

Provided, of course, that I have them. Insofar as I remain in academe, I remain contingent.

Among the many things that struck me during the conversation, though, was how students reacted to the focus of the article: the jerk. One voiced disbelief that an academic–a philosophy professor, no less–would not only write a piece about jerks, but would use the word 90 times (according to a search function run in class), including in variants such as “jerkitude” (which term itself occasioned comment) in 3,600 words (per the article’s online paratext). But I think the disjunction between Schwitzgebel’s article and the student’s expectation of academic writing is an informative one, one tying to my own earlier comment about the article doing good work at public intellectualism. There is a disconnection between what academic writing is and what it is supposed to be–and between both and what it is perceived as being by those outside academe. The disconnection is amply attested by far better scholars than I (Cohen’s piece in Hardcastle and Resich’s Bullshit and Philosophy comes to mind as one example, and Birkenstein’s 2010 College English piece on Judith Butler comes to mind as another), so I will nor rehearse it here. It will suffice to say that academic writing is generally perceived as being pretentious and removed from everyday concerns, while it is necessarily concerned with precision (and not seldom loses clarity in the attempt to find and isolate the precise nuances that need discussion), and it is supposed to be directed towards the dissemination of information so that others can use it to make yet more new knowledge.

Part of doing that last, part of making new knowledge, lies in interrogating what we think we already know. We cannot leave unexamined the assumptions we make, even when, on the surface of them, we think we know what they are and mean. I often work with four-letter words in my classes; I not seldom have my students consider the word “blue,” a simple monosyllable that invariably shows up disagreement about what the world is and what the words are that get applied to those words.  “Jerk” seems to have functioned similarly, with some overall agreement about its meaning but little considerations of the small distinctions that will identify people as jerks or as something else entirely. And it does take some work to untangle such things, to be sure, particularly because the things being untangled seem so commonplace and obvious. But that some effort is required does not mean the work is not worth doing; quite the opposite is true. There is more to gain from the expenditure of effort, from the time taken to consider what is meant by even the simplest words, and what it reveals about us that we use them the ways we do, than we commonly understand and recognize.

Thanks to Schwitzgebel, my students have a bit better idea about that now. Thanks to him, also, I have a bit clearer idea in my head of what I might be able to mean when I use a word that I use perhaps too often already–along with no few other four-letter words I know. And while the former is of far more worth than the latter, I am grateful for both–and more.

Care to help me keep on going? You can do it here!

Class Report: ENGL 135, 7 April 2018

After addressing questions from the previous meeting, discussion turned to concerns of rebuttal and refutation. Incorporation of graphics into text was also discussed. Students were given an example of argumentative writing to review and treat in class. Also, attention was given to upcoming assignments, noted below:

  • Discussions, due online before 0059 on 9 April 2018
  • Course Project: Second Draft, due online as a Word document before 0059 on 2 April 2018

Submission guidelines for the assignments are in the course shell.

The class met as scheduled, at 0900 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed 13 students, unchanged since last class; three attended, assessed informally. Class participation was good. No students attended Monday office hours.

Class Report: SPCH 275, 4 April 2018

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting, discussion turned to concerns of sourcing and research. Examples of speeches were considered, along with concerns of audience and content. Discussion ranged far afield.

Students were also reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions, due online before 0059 on 9 April 2018
  • Week 6 Homework, due online as a Word file before 0059 on 9 April 2018
  • Week 6 Presentation, due online before 0059 on 9 April 2018

Submission guidelines for the assignments are in the course shell.

The class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 108 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed six students enrolled, unchanged from last week; one attended, assessed informally. Class participation was excellent. No students attended Monday office hours.

Class Report: ENGL 135, 31 March 2018

After addressing questions from the previous meeting, discussion turned to concerns of drafting and revision, offering a model of writing processes. As usual, a professional example was examined, and attention was given to upcoming assignments, noted below:

  • Discussions, due online before 0059 on 2 April 2018
  • Course Project: First Draft, due online as a Word document before 0059 on 2 April 2018

Submission guidelines for the assignments are in the course shell.

The class met as scheduled, at 0900 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed 13 students, unchanged since last class; seven attended, assessed informally. Class participation was reasonably good. No students attended Monday office hours.

Class Report: SPCH 275, 28 March 2018

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting, discussion turned to concerns of prosody. Examples of speeches were considered, along with concerns of audience and content. Live speech practice finally took place again, as well.

Students were also reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions, due online before 0059 on 2 April 2018
  • Week 5 Homework, due online as a Word file before 0059 on 2 April 2018
  • Week 5 Course Project Discussion, due online before 0059 on 2 April 2018 (remember that the class has but one group)
  • Week 5 Presentation, due online before 0059 on 2 April 2018

Submission guidelines for the assignments are in the course shell.

The class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 108 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed six students enrolled, unchanged from last week; four attended, assessed informally. Class participation was reasonably good. No students attended Monday office hours.

Class Report: ENGL 135, 24 March 2018

After addressing questions from the previous meeting, discussion turned to annotated bibliography, generally and in regards to current coursework. Examples from professional contexts (one previously sent to students by email) were examined, offering models of composition for student consideration.

Students were also reminded about upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions, due online before 0059 on 26 March 2018
  • Course Project: Annotated Bibliography, due online as a Word document before 0059 on 26 March 2018

Submission guidelines for the assignments are in the course shell.

The class met as scheduled, at 0900 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed 13 students, unchanged since last class; three attended, assessed informally. Class participation was good. No students attended Monday office hours.