Sample Assignment Response: A First Draft of a Researched Paper for DeVry University’s ENGL 135

Continuing on from earlier work (here, here, here, and here), I mean to narrate my process for putting together a draft of the sort students are asked to compose in their fourth week of the session. As before, I’ll not explicitly use the template provided by the University, though I will be including the prewriting students are asked to submit (and about which I have some comments, below). The results should still be similar enough to what the school requires that they will be useful for my students–and I hope they will prove useful for others, as well.

For reference, the band I’m in.
Image taken from the Hill Country Community Journal.

For the assignment, students are asked to present an introduction and an argumentative section incorporating previous research, as well as a title page and references list. Content should come after the University-determined pre-writing, which students are also expected to submit under their title page. Formal sectional division is encouraged but not required; more important is that the draft present a sound beginning and a solid thesis, and that it move smoothly forward from that thesis.

As in previous exercises, I began by formatting my document, setting my typeface to double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman and inserting running heads as appropriate. I also stubbed out spaces for the prewriting, the main text, and the references list–as well as setting up the half-inch hanging indentation required of reference list entries. That done, I copied over relevant materials from earlier portions of the project, since my title should largely remain in place, and my references entries should already have been in order. Such adjustments as I needed to make to suit the specific exercise were made–converting “Annotated Bibliography” to “First Draft,” for example.

That done, I brought over the prewriting questions from the University’s template, leaving myself space to answer them. I did what I could to keep the formatting from the template in place. The prewriting itself is not part of regular APA formatting, so its inclusion need not adhere to the standards promulgated by that body–though concerns of usage should remain consistent throughout the document as much as possible in any case.

Prewriting framed in–I did not begin with completing it for reasons I lay out below–I moved on to composition, working directly from materials I had already compiled for earlier exercises. The proposal and outline offered sound initial materials, although I did adjust them slightly to offer a more conversational narrative introduction before moving on to incorporate materials I identified in earlier exercises as offering useful context for discussion. Owing to concerns of audience, I sought to keep my paragraphs relatively short–an average of 125 to 150 words seemed a good target. (In the event, I tended to exceed that length more than to adhere to it.) I also worked to keep the reading level of my paper in and around the high school level for the same reason. (I often overshoot audiences.)

One thing I made sure to do as I moved through composition was to insert entries into my reference list as I made references to items. I have heard many students–and other writers–say they compose their references last; I have had to assign many students lower grades or begin academic dishonesty proceedings no few times because of that practice. It is not a pleasant thing to do; to avoid it happening with my own work, I make sure to build my references as I go. I commend the practice to others’ use.

As I compiled my first paragraphs, I did go back to the ostensible prewriting, filling in items that had become clear to me. I believe I have noted in this webspace that I do not compose linearly, the less so when I move between composing multiple documents as narrating my processes obliges me to do. It will not work for all, to be sure, but I appreciate the flexibility doing so offers me, as well as the authenticity it lends to my accounts. And while I did so, I made sure to align my terminology to what the school’s materials uses; I call things by different labels at times, but since the example is supposed to serve my students, it needs to follow what they are asked to follow.

After getting my introduction in place, though, I hit a bit of a snag. I found myself with a clear idea of where to take my rebuttal and refutation, and I had some means to get back into my central argument from them (and I made such notes in my prewriting materials, as well as stubbing out space for later development). I did not, however, have a clear idea of how to proceed with the direct support of my argument past that point. I imagine the situation is similar to that which my students face, and so I tried to put myself in my students’ position. As I did, I noted that the draft does not need to be a complete paper; there is more to be added in the next assignment given to the students. Knowing that I did not have to generate a full eight- to ten-page paper all at once offered some relief, though the impulse to delay unduly showed, and it was and is one that needs to be fought.

The realization in place, I proceeded to flesh out the rebuttal and refutation, working from the notes I had made and from earlier exercises. I also filled in more of the expected prewriting. I may not adhere to it as the exercise continues, but it will be useful to have something of a framework as I move ahead. And I would note the same to my students. They are not bound by their outline; it is a guideline, not a rule, to follow as needed and not otherwise.  I was at ease, then, setting up the informal sections I had ready and leaving the rest for another time.

With the content compiled and directions for further development set, the formatting was re-checked to ensure ease of reading. A review of content for style was conducted, as was proofreading. All that done, the document was rendered into an accessible format, presented here: G. Elliott Sample First Draft September 2018.

I note above that I have some comments about the prescribed prewriting. To be sure, I do a fair bit of prewriting when I work on projects of my own, and I do expect that students who want to write well will do some sort of prewriting. The specific form, however, is not something I am happy to regulate, and I have noted to students previously that they are free to use the school’s form if it helps them–and that they should back-fill it from their draft if it does not. I understand assigning a grade to the completion of the prewriting as a way to get students even to attempt such a thing. And I understand restricting options both as a cost-saving measure and as a means of easing assessment burdens. But none of that means I think it is an ideal teaching practice.

Your help will still help. Please give.

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Sample Assignment Response: An Annotated Bibliography for DeVry University’s ENGL 135

Continuing on from earlier work (here, here, and here), I mean to narrate my process for putting together an annotated bibliography of the sort students are asked to compose in their third week of the session. As in earlier posts, I’ll not be using the template the University provides its students, although what I do produce will again be remarkably similar, as the University’s template works in APA format. I still continue to hope that my remarks and the resulting document will be helpful for my future students and others’.

AnnBibScreenshot
As might be guessed from the screenshot, I’ve done some annotated bibliography work.

For the assignment, students are asked to develop an introduction and five three-part annotations; the annotations are expected to consist of an APA-style citation, a summary of the cited source, and an assessment of that source’s usefulness to the project. Annotations should be alphabetized by citation, and the sources they treat should be secondary (that is, talking about a thing rather than being the thing itself) sources of a scholarly nature. The introduction does well to note the thrust of the overall project and the methodology and rationale for source selection.

As in previous exercises, I began by formatting my document, setting my typeface to double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman and inserting running heads as appropriate. I also stubbed out spaces for my introduction and annotations, since the formatting should shift within the latter; citations take a hanging indentation, while paragraphs such as the introduction, summaries, and assessments take a first-line indentation (half an inch in all cases). I also inserted a blank line between annotation-stubs to make future reading easier. Titles and running heads were inserted as usual and appropriate, as well.

Because I had already done some work establishing a thrust for the project and laying out search methods, I worked first on my introduction. Since the project is a continuation of work already done, I brought over what I could from previous materials, incorporating the earlier work without comment. (This can only be done ethically if the carry-over is within the development of a single project, as in ENGL 135. Carrying work form term to term or class to class–say, from ENGL 112 to ENGL 135–requires citation.) Although I had cited and summarized two sources, however, I felt I should not bring them over; the idea is to find more information, rather than to re-hash information already obtained.

As such, I re-ran my initial search to bring up the results I already knew I had, and I looked again at those I had not already incorporated into the project. One such source focused on instrument maintenance, rendering it useful for other purposes than mine; another served only as the front-matter of a journal, making no argument. The third, though, looked at the decades-long endurance of one organization, suggesting that it might speak in some way to support; I read it, finding a small amount of useful material in it. As such, I drafted its citation, summary, and assessment, incorporating each into my bibliography. (Note that the citation omits database information, following current APA guidelines reported on the Purdue OWL.)

Annotating the source, however, exhausted the resources from the initial search, so an expansion of search parameters seemed in order. The first such was to open the search to articles dating back to 2008–ten years prior to work on the project and after several of the significant cultural events that continue to influence the project-present. Three more articles emerged, of which all three promised some use; all three were reviewed, and those that were found useful were included in the bibliography. As they were, notes were added to the introduction to account for the expanded search method and rationale. Further notes were added to account for an article revealed in the references of another, as well as an outside piece resulting from an additional search.

As notes and annotations were finalized, formatting was adjusted to ensure that citations were not abandoned by the rest of their annotations. A review of content for style was conducted after, as was proofreading. All that done, the document was rendered into an accessible format, presented here: G. Elliott Sample Annotated Bibliography September 2018.

I could use your help to develop better teaching materials and practices. Please give.

Sample Assignment Response: Proposing a Project for DeVry University’s ENGL 135

Following up on an earlier post in which I begin to enact the kind of project I expect my students to do (itself a follow-up on a yet earlier post), I mean to narrate my process of developing the second of the required course project assignments: a proposal and outline. As in the earlier post, I’ll not be using the template the University provides its students, although what I do produce will be remarkably similar, as the University’s template works in APA format. I do have some remarks about the assignment itself, which I include along with my resulting document, and I continue to hope that they will be helpful for my future students and others’.

Related image
Proposals have a long history.
Image from Quora.com, with an original source not as clear to me as I would like.

Students are tacitly asked to give a brief introductory paragraph before offering a formal outline for their paper. The outline takes four parts, numbered with capital Roman numerals: Introduction, Evidence, Conclusion, and References. The first two parts are divided further: the introduction treats topic, context, and audience; evidence looks at already-gathered and yet-to-be gathered information. Each part, save references, has accompanying questions to guide response; the references are directed to be in APA format. (When I set up my document, I did not copy them over.)

As in the previous exercise, I began by formatting my document, setting the typeface, spacing, running head, and page numbers as I mean them to be. Since I already had a title in place (again, from the previous exercise), I was able to insert it as appropriate, as well.

Indeed, the title was not the only thing I was able to pull directly over–and since the proposal is explicitly a continuation of the same project begun in the topic selection, doing so is expected. As such, I pulled over my references from the earlier exercise, inserting them as appropriate into the current one. Answers to such questions as I had available–partial answers for the questions of the current exercise–also got transferred over without comment and amended as necessary.

Because I had my document stubbed out, with the school-determined parts already in place, I did not feel bound to compose my responses in order. I typically do not do so, in fact, moving around projects as I have specific ideas and inserting them where I think they are appropriate. I did so in composing the proposal, the references data giving rise to what evidence I would gather and moving thence to the called-for conclusion; the conclusion, in turn, prompted me to add to my understanding of what research I need to conduct to make my case most effectively.

Only after bringing over materials and working on the end-goal did I back-fill the earlier parts, and I did not treat them in linear order, either. Secondary audience got treated early (and with recourse to my over-arching project of producing useful examples for my expected future students). Context received treatment next, with me moving back and forth between justification and my personal ethos with the project. Afterwards, I formalized my research question, working thesis, and statement of angle, revising them from parts of earlier materials in light of what I had developed in filling out the rest of the proposal.

After I had filled out the numbered parts of the proposal, I spend some time away from the project before turning to the overall introduction. I had thought that it, too, would benefit from some copy-over from my earlier work, but, as I reviewed the earlier piece, I found that it did not have what I needed. Instead, I decided to use the introduction to the project proposal to draft some work towards the overall introduction to the project as a whole (knowing as I did so that the work was provisional and might need to be discarded utterly in future iterations of project work).

Content completed, I reviewed my document for formatting and style before proofreading it for what my amid-composition corrections missed. The formatting review occasioned some adjustments, since I did not want to leave headings orphaned at the bottoms of pages. The proofreading obliged a few minor adjustments, including at least one instance of my most common typo: confusing form and from. And I took the time to adjust my title slightly, as the project had shifted a bit while I was working on it–as projects are wont to do.

With the review done, I put the file into an accessible format, which I offer here:
G. Elliott Sample Project Proposal September 2018.

I do not always favor working from a static outline; I rarely do so in my own work, although I do commonly stub out sections of projects and make notes of ideas I want to pursue at specified points in the papers I write. The problem that inheres in doing so is that, by offering a framework as a standard, such constructions often prompt writers–including, if not especially, student writers–to act as if the putative standard is the only way to organize, as well as to act as if the organization, once set, is immutable. Different projects require different organizational strategies, but the way issues are framed in standardized curricula tend to blind students to that requirement. Too, writing has to be flexible to be authentic, and, again, standardized curricula tend to keep students from seeing such truths.

At the same time, the kind of grading demands placed on instructors who teach such courses–most who do are contingent labor, working more than one job, and are teaching classes that enroll far more students than should be the case while having it demanded of them that they work toward total uniformity among sections of the course–make such measures almost obligatory. And it is the case at public colleges and non-profit schools as well as at for-profit institutions, at least in my experience, so it is not only a matter of for-profit money-making strategies (though it is among the money-making strategies, to be fair). Thus, while I conduct the present exercise, and I do expect my students to do the same (because I need my paycheck, after all), I do so with some reservation.

It remains true that my teaching doesn’t make much. Care to help support instructional quality?

Sample Assignment Response: Selecting a Topic for DeVry University’s ENGL 135

In an earlier post, I note that I ought to follow the pattern my second-semester composition students are asked to follow and work through selecting a topic and several other assignments to the generation of a conference-length paper. Doing so continues to sound like a decent enough idea, so, even though I will have to make some emendations to things in the interest of not doing students’ work for them and to keep materials that are the school’s where the school wants them, I mean to press ahead. And that means I will begin the current series of exercises with that expected of students at the beginning of the session: topic selection. After providing some context for the work, I’ll write through my process of generation and, at the end, append the resulting document, hoping that it will prove useful to my students and to others’.

Picking a topic sometimes feels like this.
Image from Giphy.com.

In ENGL 135, students are asked to work from four broad headings: Education, Arts & Culture, Technology, and the Environment. For topic selection, students are asked to first develop five questions about one of those four headings before expressing their stake in their chosen area of inquiry. They are then asked to cite and summarize two sources that offer differing views of their topic before proceeding to identify an audience to which to direct their efforts. Finally, they are asked to develop what amounts to a working thesis for their project so that, in the following weeks, they have a direction for their research to follow–even though that direction may well change in light of additional information found. The whole is to be presented in a template provided by the University; a pre-formatted Word document awaits them, and all they need do is fill in the required information in the indicated locations.

Given my worries about documentation, I’ll not be using the template provided to students. I will, however, be following the standard formatting for their assignments; DeVry University operates in APA style, so I will adhere to it as best as I am able for formatting, citation, and writing style–in the documents I prepare. (My writing in this webspace will continue to follow my usual patterns. It is explanatory rather than demonstrative.) Because I want to make sure I do that correctly, I’ll set that up first, setting my document’s type to 12-point Times New Roman, typing a title page, and setting up my running head and page numbering as appropriate. (Students are given a tutorial for how to do it, and I’ve given pre-formatted templates any number of times. Still, they have problems. I do not understand why.)

The document formatted, I then proceed to address the questions posed, taking them from the template provided to students. Working with how I tend to work, I copy the questions over from the student template and stub out spaces for my answers; I benefit from having a framework, although I deliberately keep my conceptions loose, as I expect that my ideas will change as I go through doing the work. I also make a few adjustments to formatting in the interest of easing reading. (Again, I am not working form the student template, so I have to make changes.)

With my framework in place, I then begin mulling over my possible topic. As a scholar in the humanities, my inclinations are initially towards education and arts & culture as broad headings. As a long-time educator, I have done a fair bit of work looking into how to teach–indeed, the current project arises from my desire to return to a best practice I well know. I am concerned, however, that doing a project meant to serve as an example of best practice on best practice will, in its meta-educational nature, come off as a bit awkward–particularly if my research ends up suggesting that my practice is not among the best. (If it is, it is a thing I need to know, of course, but I am not certain that this would be the appropriate venue for the revelation to be made.) So perhaps that is not the best path for me to take.

Instead, I might focus on one of the other parts of my life, the participation in the community band about which I’ve written. I know that one of the purposes of that ensemble is to help those of us who used to play and miss playing to play again; I know also that one of the things that is happening in that ensemble is that high school students who fill out the sections are benefiting from the experience of the more senior members of the organization. Because there is benefit accruing in more than one direction, it occurs to me that questions of support are relevant–and so I begin to have questions to brainstorm and fill our my self-created template.

Having developed an initial raft of questions, I move on to consideration of my own stake in the overall field. Rather, I move back to it, because my selection of the general heading and of the specific topic preceded my coming up with questions to ask. I am a member of a community band, so questions about its representation and support bear in on my membership and participation in the ensemble.

With questions and my involvement established, the time is come to get a feel for the field. Using Academic Search Complete through the school’s library, I search for “community band” in full-text peer-reviewed journals, limiting myself to a few document types (articles, book chapters, and case studies) published since 2010. Only five articles appeared, which tells me that there is much to do in my area of inquiry (and that future research will need to take a broader view–though I note there is an International Journal of Community Music that might continue to be a useful resource); I reviewed and summarized the two that seemed most amenable to the present purpose.

That done, I moved to considerations of audience. It occurred to me that there are two potential threads of discussion my paper might follow: support and representation. They will speak to different audiences. Concerns of support would be addressed to members of my local community and community groups that are in position to offer support. Concerns of representation would be addressed most likely either to the general readership of my blog or to the more academic readership of such publications as the International Journal of Community Music. The latter will rely more upon documentary information and logical development of argument than the former; the former will take more of a pathos appeal and a less intricate presentation. And such information found its way into my topic selection document.

At that point, I had almost all the content needed for the exercise, and I moved to fill out the last part, addressing my specific issue and angle. If I work on the issue of support, I will do so with an eye to getting support together for the community band in which I play now. If I work on the issue of representation, I will do so with an eye towards maintaining or enhancing the authenticity of representation. I am still not sure, though, the direction the project will take–although I tend to think that the issue of support will be more amenable to treatment than that of representation, at least within the terms of the course project I expect my students to complete. As I progress through the process through which my students are moving, I will decide more fully, but that seems the direction to start moving in.

Having made such notes in my document, I reviewed my text for overall style, glancing over it to make sure paragraph length is as it should be and vocabulary reflects the project being conceived and the materials treated so far. I also looked for typographical errors, making one or two final passes from my usual amid-writing corrections. That done, I saved the file in an accessible format, the which is included below:

G. Elliott Sample Topic Selection September 2018

I expect I will be continuing to work on this project, leading perhaps to a document I can use as a basis for other work–but, more hopefully, to a series of piece I can use to help my students do better in successive terms.

Teachers still don’t make much. Care to help offset some more of that?

In Response to Shivani Seth

On 20 September 2018, Shivani Seth’s “What’s Next in the Culture of Care” appeared on Rest for Resistance. In her article, Seth makes the case that self-care, rather than being the commercialized small respite it is often presented as being, is a mindful practice emerging from the recognition both of need and of the fact that having need is not wrong. She moves through a thought experiment into a proposal for a cultural shift into a greater valuation of individual happiness and mutual support, looking for examples at how elder- and child-care might be shifted to help address such valuation. She usefully notes that enacting such a shift will be no easy task, given personal demands, and acknowledges her own privilege in making the kinds of assertions she has made. Seth then moves on to note that collaborative care is necessary, that current self-care practices tend to be stop-gaps that do not address underlying problems, and that building greater, deeper communities enables us to be our better selves.

How much this is the kind of thing discussed…
Image from http://www.cupofcatherine.com/2017/05/11/boring-self-care/.

I have had the immense pleasure of working with Seth in other online communities I participate in; getting to do so has been gratifying, and her writing is a pleasure to read. I was therefore happy to hear that she had had a piece come out, and, even though there’s been some time since it has, I read it as soon as I could. And I think her core messages–self-care as typically depicted is a commercialized stopgap and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging and addressing need–are correct. Seth’s note that many prescriptions of self-care come from positions of privilege is one that resonates with me; I am one of the multiple-job workers she remarks upon, and I am not doing the work I do for my own health so much as to ensure that my wife and daughter have what they need. Extra sleep and time away and soothing baths are not things I can often afford, either in the money I’d need to spend on them or the time away from being a father, a husband, or a worker. And I fall victim to the socially ingrained push to deny that I have needs that I cannot meet through working harder and being more ascetic than I am (which, I will readily admit, is not terribly much). Too, I am aware of my own position of privilege; I know that things are easier for me than for many others because my skin color is what it is, my surname is what it is, my gender expression is what it is, my orientation is what it is, my accent is what it is, etc. I know many others have it far worse than I do. So Seth’s words resonate with me.

I do what I can, of course, to foster a community of care. I can hardly not, working the jobs I do. But there is far more to be done, and it won’t be accomplished by sweet-smelling soaps alone…

Care to contribute?

More about My Teaching

I have not exactly hidden the fact that I am continuing to teach despite my certainty that I will never have the kind of full-time teaching job I expected to have either as an undergraduate or a grad student. Many of the posts I make in this webspace are devoted to that end, in fact, such that listing them would be folly; they are easily enough found. And of the classes I have taught, the one I most often find myself teaching is second-semester composition, whether as a traditional English 102 or under some other name used by one school or another for purposes that are not always clear to me. Indeed, nine of the last twenty-one classes I’ve taught since returning to Texas (including the course in progress as of this writing) have been of such sort–more than any three other courses in that time combined.

A Site of Writing
The image is mine from several years back.

Teaching such classes takes up a fair bit of my time (though far less than it used to) and perhaps a larger part of my thoughts than it should. And some of those thoughts run back to when teaching was my primary job and I thought I’d be doing it as a career. Then, I made a point of writing samples of the assignments I asked of my students, offering them models to follow in putting together their own work. I’ve not been doing so in the past year or so, partly because I already have quite a few examples developed, and partly because, well, teaching’s a part-time job for me at this point, and I’m not sure I have anything better–or even else, really–to offer my students now. That I don’t still do so sometimes nags at me. I am still doing the work, and I still want to do well all the work I do; not working alongside my students seems somehow to be an admission of deliberately doing badly. Too, I feel my own skills in researched writing are decaying somewhat; I do not do much scholarship of any sort any more, tending more towards ruminations like this or my commentaries on the Tales after Tolkien Society blog. And because that makes me less good at what I’m teaching, it makes me less good a teacher, which sits ill.

I suppose the answer is to follow the course sequence my second-semester composition classes are facing, working through a nebulous topic selection process to generate a proposal and tentative outline before producing an annotated bibliography and generating three drafts of a paper and a presentation based on it. And I suppose my students would benefit from having not only the embedded model to follow, but also my comments about my process in putting such a paper together. It looks like I will be teaching second-semester composition again before the year is out, so even if it is late to help the students I have now, it may well be of use to those who will follow after them…

Teachers don’t make much. Care to help offset some of that?

A Rumination on the Rain

As I write this, the Hill Country town where I grew up and where I live again is in the midst of a long span of rain. We’ve had close to a week of it at this point, and we’re in for at least a few days more–and while a good rain is always welcome, it’d be nice to get a few things to dry out just a bit. As it is, mowing my yard’s going to be a two-and-a-half-hour job, and I’m far enough out of shape that I’ll not be good for much else on the day I do it. (That is my problem, though, not the rain’s.) More rain’s going to make it more of an annoyance, even if we still need it to replenish the aquifer and clean out the rivers and creeks around here.

20180910_115803
View from the front porch at the office.
The picture is mine.

Rain here is a strange thing. In the full summer–and what we tend to have in late July and through August is a different thing than in May and June or September and October, while even our “winters” tend to be like the springs and even summers of other places I have lived–when rain comes, it comes in a fury, dumping flooding waters for twenty minutes or so and then stopping dead, allowing the wet ground to dry and make the air moist and heavy, while not doing much to keep the temperatures low. (Indeed, days of 90°+ temperatures and 90%+ humidity are not uncommon here, though not as pervasive as in southwest Louisiana, to be sure.) The kind of rain we’ve been getting, mostly light but punctuated emphatically with shortish spans of torrent from the sky, is more like what we get in winter–though it is far warmer, leaving things feeling like nothing so much as a bathroom half an hour after a shower. Drivers are driving worse, and peoples’ spirits seem dampened along with their clothes and just about everything else.

For me, though, the rain is usually something different. I drive decently well in it–or I think so, anyway, as much as I ever do. And I tend to have an easier time writing when water is falling from the sky outside. Leaving aside horrible dirty jokes rooted in ideas of Ouranous and Gaea–how else is Mother Earth impregnated?–I am often better able to think when the sky is grey and clouds descend to the ground in small, small bits. I usually sleep better, too, though I am given to understand such is the case for a lot of people. I am, I suppose, supposed to be where there is rain–not because I am so lugubrious as that, and hopefully not because I somehow accept that my place in the world is being pissed upon or subjected to the assaults of other fluids.

Or something like that.

Help me stay afloat?

On Still Working at a For-Profit School

On 27 August 2018, I wrote here about my continuing, asymptotic disentanglement from academe. As I did, I made the note that “I acknowledge that there are critiques to be levied at my employment by a for-profit institution. I may well address them in another post to this webspace; for now, they would be a bit of a distraction.” This is the “another post” noted, the one in which I make some effort to address such critiques, although I recall having spoken to the issue previously. I cannot recall where, though, so this will have to do, at least for the moment and partially. I cannot envision all critiques, after all.

Yep, this is where I do it.
Image taken from the DeVry website, used for comment and critique
It seems appropriate.

One such critique that comes to mind is that, in working for a for-profit institution, I am complicit in the exploitation of the (broken) student loan system in play in the United States, particularly regarding the (non-traditional, academically and economically disadvantaged) population the institution serves. And I cannot deny that I am somewhat culpable. I do the work I am asked to do, and I accept money for doing so; I am part of the system that makes such things happen. But I do not get much of that money–more I will also note that I came into the job when I had few or no other prospects; as no few find, certain clusters of letters at the end of a name make many job searches fruitless. For me, the job was something of a desperation play, a stopgap measure that has ended up being less temporary than I had thought it would be–but one that still serves to help me address my own issues of student debt. (And I attended second-tier state schools with significant financial support, so mine is less than many others’–but it is still no small burden to bear.)

Perhaps that is not sufficient justification. Better, though, is that teaching at such a school does help me to reach out to its students. Typically, those enrolled at for-profit schools are those who have not been able to enroll in more traditional programs. Much is made about such students being hand-waved through on their way to credentials rather than taught; I work against such things, treating those students in much the same ways I have treated students at more traditional institutions. I expect them to attend to details and think through their implications, and I challenge the ideas they present (as well as the forms in which they make the presentations, partly because I am paid to, and partly because the students need to be doing things by choice and deliberately, rather than flailing about). They can do as well as any other students, and they deserve the same degree of rigor and challenge as do other students–and while I cannot attest to what does or does not happen in others’ classes, I know they get them in mine.

Again, I know there are other critiques that can be leveled at my work, both others of which I am aware and more which I am not. But I flatter myself that I am making things at least a little bit better through the work I do at DeVry.

It pays the bills, but I can always use more!

In Response to Francesca Gino

On 21 August 2018, Francesca Gino’s “Need More Self-Control? Try a Simple Ritual” appeared in the online Scientific American. Gino opens her piece by asserting a problem to address–lack of self-control, particularly as related to eating–and notes its persistent study by scholars and entrepreneurs. She then notes several previously attempted solutions to the problem and their deficiencies before pivoting to her central idea: ritual offers a path to self-control. The piece then offers a simple, working definition of ritual and references Gino’s previous work on rituals, explicating the methods and results of two studies she helped to conduct. A warning about over-reliance on ritual follows, succeeded by a brief explanation of how the observed effects may come to be. Gino’s piece concludes with connections to lived experience and a return to the chocolate cake mentioned in the piece’s opening, a closure that seems in good taste.

This comes up on a Google search for “ritual.”
I’m told it’s William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s 1884 The Youth of Bacchus,
and that it’s in the public domain.

I forget how Gino’s piece came to my attention, although I am likely to put it forward to my students as a useful example of expository writing; it moves well and reads easily, and if the conventions of citation are not those I am obliged to require of my pupils, they are excellently done within the context of the piece’s presentation. Aside from such use, though, and from allowing a groaner of a joke in its summary, the article has strangely stuck in my head.

Ritual is commonly associated with religious practice and with group identity, as Gino motions toward near the end of her article. I am not a person of faith, as I have pointed out, and it has been some time since I was part of a group other than my family that has been around long enough for rituals to develop. (And I seem to set aside quite a few of those my family practices, as well, much to my parents’ consternation at holidays.) Yet I am also, in the event, somewhat superstitions–perhaps not in the ways enumerated by Stevie Wonder, but still beholden to practices that have little real effect. I will not leave a cup of coffee, once poured, undrunk, for example, and I always leave the porch-light on when someone–anyone–who belongs in my house is away from it. (Admittedly, that last is useful at night.) And I am always sure that the last thing I say to those I love is that I love them–not that it would help them or me not hurt were it the last thing they heard me say.

I do find myself nagged by unease when I neglect to do such things, so perhaps I would be the kind of person who would benefit from enacting some small ritual before I eat. To develop one ex nihilo seems somehow silly, though, so I am not sure what kind I would employ. I am already far sillier than I ought to be, and I do not think anyone is well served by my being sillier yet.

Giving makes for a good ritual!

In Response to Adam Harris

On 5 June 2018, Adam Harris’s “Here’s How Higher Education Dies” appeared in the online version of The Atlantic. In the piece, Harris makes the case that higher education, as an industry, has passed its peak and appears to be on a slow decline. He grounds his assertion in Bryan Alexander’s 2013 work, noting that Alexander’s predictions appear to be coming true and discussing reasons they seem to be so. Harris then explicates the problems to colleges and universities of declining enrollment (mergers and closures of programs and schools, further increasing adjunctification), as well as possible remedies (outreach to non-traditional students). He also notes that while some schools will be relatively insulated from coming changes, others will have to adapt to survive. Harris ends with a small gesture towards hope, citing Alexander’s own ideas about institutional viability, and the putative irony of institutions of learning suffering amid a glut of available information.

A typical view of the field.
Image taken from the State of Oregon, so I’m pretty sure it’s public domain.

It is true that Harris’s article took some time to find its way in front of me, and I accept that my comments about it will be affected by that delay. Too, they will be affected by my continuing disentanglement from academe–a process that is not complete (and will probably not be so long as I continue to benefit from my minimal engagement); I readily admit that my experience of higher education has left me with decided attitudes about the whole endeavor. But I do not think that higher education has reached its peak–perhaps a lesser peak on the way to its full summit. There is still too much reliance on the kind of credentialing higher education offers and too much resistance to that in enough areas that the kind of saturation “peak” seems to require when used in other arenas for it to apply, I think. And there is still more room for adjunctification, though I worry about pointing it out for fear of prompting it.

There is also still more understanding that there can be another way in education for it to be really “peak” (though I am not entirely happy about that phrasing, I’ll admit). Even in the online, “career-focused” class I am teaching now, with students who are explicitly and specifically working towards degrees so they meet requirements for jobs, I have students–and more than might be thought–who either know or are open to knowing the pleasure or learning for its own sake and of looking into areas of endeavor removed from their professional concerns. The adult and non-traditional students I teach, while knowing and acknowledging that some of what they are asked to do is asinine for any group of students or not appropriate for them as for 18-year-olds straight out of suburban secondary school, understand that what they study outside their majors is helpful for their lives outside their careers–whether as part of their putative civic engagement or their personal, non-remunerated enrichment. They still have some sense of education as an inherently worthy goal, whatever the grade in the course–at least some of them do.

Peak higher education is not a thing in itself, but a symptom of a greater disease, and that symptom has still not spread enough to kill the patient. Yet.

Help me get to my peak?