Thursday, October 30, 2014

Added a CV page 'cause I'm on the market

So, I added my CV as a page on this blog.

The link is over there in the sidebar.

I put it up here because I'm applying for jobs.

As someone interested in persuasion and argument, the job search process is fascinating.

In the professional writing class I teach, we do a few sessions on the job search, and I tell students to hold this attitude in their minds:
Remember, the person who gives you a job is not doing you a favor. If they hire you, it is because they expect you to make their operation run better or do more. No one hires an employee as an act of charity.

This is supposed to remind students that the power dynamics in a job search are not as lopsided as we often feel.

That's really easy advice to give in the classroom, but it is a lot of work to maintain that attitude.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Five Fallacies Done Well



Too often in composition classrooms the logical fallacies are taught as a list to be memorized for a later quiz or exam.

They are taught because they feel like "content" in a course that can sometimes feel light on content.

That is something I don't approve of.

I first learned of these ideas in an intro to logic course in the philosophy department at Madison. In that class we spent time going over examples and exploring why such methods of argument are problematic. This led nicely into the course on sentential logic.

The video here does a lot of the same work. It spends time with each fallacy and shows viewers what the fallacy looks like "in the wild."

This is something I approve of.




Thursday, October 09, 2014

Wow! Facts and Reasoning on Cable News?

This is a video of Reza Aslan undertaking the Sisyphean task of trying to engage in real constructive debate on cable news.

It's pretty awesome. He takes the reins just after the one-minute mark, and he demonstrates how facts and knowledge are better than assumptions and guesses.

For a while I thought the folks at CNN were in on it; that they were setting up all the bad arguments for Professor Aslan to knock down.

That would have been some genius journalism.

Sadly, I recently learned that the show brought in another guest the next day and told everyone that Reza's facts are not as important as your fear of "the other."

The Young Turks do a great piece on this.


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Thoughts on Writing in English from International Students

Monday was day one for my composition class for visiting international students.

I asked them to hand write a brief statement about their experiences writing in a second language.

The results were so great that I started typing excepts into my teaching journal.

The quote that got me most was one of the first I read. It's from a biology student:
The English that I learned in school before going to university is very different from the one I started to learn as a college student, because even if it is the same language, they are in different contexts, demanding different knowledges.
I read that and had to pause to take a deep breath.

Here's the thing, that quote articulates the rational for one of the more important chapters in my dissertation. Sure, I'm working on the dissertation all the time lately, so it makes sense that I would see it in everything I read, but the spot-on nature of that quote is uncanny. 

I have an entire chapter dedicated to the idea that second-language students in biology are working with language conventions and scientific concepts that force them to reassess their own knowledge of English. But I didn't tell that to this student. 

So, I read the rest of my students' writing histories with my researcher's hat on, and it proved to be an enriching exercise. 

Take a look at some of the sentences I pulled from writing history texts generated by visiting international students at a research university. 

Writing in English is one action which makes me really nervous.

As I wrote papers more and more, I feel comfortable to write in English.
 
I also write in English sometimes to connect with people in the internet.

Sometimes I cannot find the exact word to express myself. 
I wrote my first essay in English when I was preparing for the TOEFL test. 
Korea’s [English] education system only focuses on reading and listening. 
I memorize a lot of sentences which called ‘template.’ The reason I did this is only for getting a good grade. 
My experience writing in a second language makes me feel a little nervous, because writing essays is not a great skill that I have even in my native language.

It was difficult in the beginning because American writing rules are different from Brazilian’s. 
I feel like I was basically translating Chinese essay writing skills. 
I had to write an application […] but it was very hard to me, because I had to write my experience.

Writing an essay in English was one of my favorite activity when I was in middle school […] In recent times, however […] I feel nothing. I cannot have that excitement and feelings of freedom I had in the past. 
I suppose it is pretty difficult to write in a foreign language. 
I’m not the perfect writer in English. 
I started to learn the way of writing an argument essays for an university entrance exam. It was a good opportunity for me to improve my writing skills because my English teacher checked my essay again and again. 
I’ve always listened to music and watched movies in English. 
Through the years I started doing more writings and feeling a little less afraid of doing them. 
The quotes paint an interesting picture of the way international students think about writing in the English language.

Oh, and if you are concerned about the errors in these quotes, don't be. Why you shouldn't be is a conversation for another time, but I will say this: These are very articulate statements, errors and all, coming from students writing in a second language without time to prep, without digital tools, and without time to revise.


Friday, October 03, 2014

Laziest Argument Online Right Now

I shouldn't be blogging.

I am trying to finish my dissertation this year, and it will require a lot of my focus.

But I could not resist. I just read the laziest argument I've encountered in years.

Christopher Denhart posted this on Forbes.com today, and I am shocked at how little respect he has for his readers.

Denhart presents his criticism of Germany's decision to stop charging students for tuition at university.

His argument rests on a few major points:

  • Germany's taxes are already too high
  • Systems that have students pay tuition help control the costs of education
  • There aren't enough jobs for college grads (in America)
So, German taxes are high... Sorry, but complaining about tax rates in Germany isn't a very smart move if you're looking to make the case for lower taxes elsewhere. We're talking about an EU country where unemployment is at 5.1% and the economy is a global superstar. 

Denhart goes on to assert that when students foot the bill, that helps control costs at universities. That's just a stupid thing to say. Even if I try to accept his argument that federal loans caused the spike in US tuition, the fact remains, tuition has increased steadily as public support for higher ed has decreased. Everyone knows this. And if you need evidence for the advantages of public support, look to the rise of the University of California, a system that came to global prominence while charging no tuition. 

Finally, Denhart trys to use the unemployment situation in the US to suggest that maybe it would be better for Germany to have fewer graduates. Which is interesting if you're able to ignore the facts that Germany doesn't have the same unemployment situation as the US, that the German economy depends on high-skilled workers, and that unemployment for US workers is worse for those without a degree than it is for those who have one. 

I mean, this argument is so bad - like the "so bad it's good" kind of bad.

It is a bunch of talking points from the fiscal conservative playbook (which isn't all bad) pounded in the most ham-fisted of ways into a statement about funding higher education.

And here's why I couldn't resist writing about it: We need to reassess the way we fund higher education in the US. We do. The current system is broken, and this joker Denhart is trying to argue against that. He's arguing that we're doing it right. Well, not quite. We would be doing it right if only we removed more public support from the system. 

And he's doing it by making statements that sound smart until you start thinking about them. 

I know of strong counter arguments to what Denhart has put forward here. I actually know some good arguments in favor of what he's trying to say. But that's not what I wanted to post about. 

I just wanted to point to a lazy argument that is part of an important policy debate in our country and say this: Lazy arguments find readers, and some of those readers will feel informed by those lazy arguments.

When a person says, "I read this in Forbes," it sounds like they know a thing or two. 

In the interest of constructive public discourse, even the people who agree with Denhart should be upset that this got published in Forbes. It's embarrassing.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Rhetoric of Ice Buckets

I am subscribed to the excellent YouTube channel, Idea Channel.  

They posted a video about the value of social media posts, focusing on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. 

The video says a lot of what I've been thinking. Take a look.
After viewing, I scrolled through some comments, where I ran into the same argument I've been seeing since this challenge went viral.

Those comments prompted me to put on my Rhetoric Instructor Hat and write the following:

I've read the complaint that this challenge only went viral because it satisfies people's narcissistic desires; it feeds the ego, and according to those doing the complaining, that's shameful. 

I feel pretty comfortable saying this complaint is stupid. And my reasons for saying that address this question of value.

The ice bucket challenge is a call to action that leans primarily on appeals to ethos and pathos to make its case.

The ethos appeal, while it is not what people are complaining about, is important. It goes like this: You are a member of my social network and I am calling you out as a friend who cares about a cause. I believe our social ties should be enough to prompt you to act.

That's a familiar appeal on social networks, but by itself, this appeal often leads to token support and nothing more. A profile pic changes color for a week (or 8). A cause is "liked" or shared. 

In rhetoric, a strong call to action combines appeals, and that is what the ice bucket challenge did.

The pathos appeal (the one people are complaining about) goes like this: For many people, it feels good, exhilarating, fun, and satisfying when a bunch of people watch you perform a silly public act - even better when some of them praise you for that. After seeing a member of your social network enjoy those feelings, there is an emotional push to follow suit. That push is made all the stronger when you have been called out by name. The call out gives you permission to step across the socially constructed convention that tells us (well, most of us) not to draw too much attention to ourselves. 

Those are very strong appeals, and there is nothing wrong with them. Adding the appeal to pathos is what gave this phenomenon it's value. The combination of appeals drove, in part, the impressive raising of funds and awareness.  

And on a related note, we should not shame a person who vies for public attention through a silly act in the name of a cause. For many, it is fun to perform and it is thrilling when people approve of your performance. Even when it is something silly, those emotional responses are valid and worth seeking. 

The people who tsk-tsk that kind of behavior are frowning on any public displays that fall outside of what they have deemed appropriate. The term for such a person is "stick-in-the-mud." And I have very little patience for such people. 


Monday, August 11, 2014

Politics and Close Relationships


I love arguing.

I enjoy the act itself.

I will argue with a person who I agree with if I think their argument needs a little work.

But it is too easy for me and many others to forget that the people we argue with represent a lot more than the arguments they make.

On his weekly blog for the Village Voice, Andrew W.K. offers this incredible reminder that we shouldn't allow politics and arguments to overshadow a person's humanity.
Human beings crave order and simplicity. We cling to the hope that some day, if we really refine our world view and beliefs, we can actually find the fully correct way to think -- the absolute truth and final side to stand on. People and systems craving power take advantage of this desire and pit us against each other using a "this or that" mentality. The point is to create unrest, disagreement, resentment, and anger -- a population constantly at war with itself, each side deeply believing that the other is not just wrong, but also a sincere threat to their very way of life and survival. This creates constant anxiety and distraction -- the perfect conditions for oppression. The goal of this sort of politics is to keep people held down and mesmerized by a persistent parade of seemingly life-or-death debates, each one worth all of our emotional energy and primal passion. 
But the truth is, the world has always been and always will be on the brink of destruction. And what keeps it from actually imploding is our love for life and our deep-seeded desire not to die. Our love for our own life is inextricably connected to our love of all life and the miracle of this phenomenon we call "the world." We must give all of ourselves credit every day for keeping things going. It's an incredible achievement to exist at all.
The whole piece is framed as advice to a young man who can no longer deal with his father's politics.

It's a great read. Check it out.