In Loving Memory of School House Rock

Yesterday, our final class discussion was inspired by Anne Curzan’s “Says Who? Teaching and Questioning the Rules of Grammar”. Grammar has been a fundamental part of my education since grade school. I have fond memories of participating in classroom activities focused on the parts of speech and watching the infamous School House Rock time and time again. In fact, my school’s spring musical in 2006 was School House Rock. I bet you didn’t know there was a musical adaptation, did you? If you would like to borrow a VHS copy of the production, please e-mail oduke@udel.edu. Anyways, for me, grammar was almost always presented in a non-threatening, and even fun, way—and that made all the difference. In high school, the trend continued as grammar lessons were incorporated into my English classes through open and thought provoking discussions. As I grew as a writer, my knowledge and understanding of grammar grew, too. Needless to say, I entered yesterday’s discussion a little biased. While I completely agree that prescriptive rules of grammar undoubtedly need to be questioned, I also think they should still hold some weight—or at least exist—in the grammar conversation. My favorite line from Curzan’s piece is, “Grammar is not, and should not ever be framed as, a “Because I say so” subject”. Teaching grammar should be an open dialogue between students and teachers, with teachers never demanding rules but explaining concepts. If English classrooms facilitate these open conversations about grammar concepts, hopefully grammar instruction can stick around a little longer! So when you’re happy (Hurray!), or sad (Awww!), or frightened (EEK!), or mad (Rats!), or excited (Wow!), or glad (HEY!), an interjection stops the sentence right! – School House Rock

 

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Grammar

In my work as a peer tutor at the writing center, I have had many sessions where students book an appointment solely to focus on grammar. As a rule of thumb, the writing center encourages its employees to not simply proofread a paper, as ew are there to share ideas of writing and to talk about larger topics in addition to the nuts and bolts of grammatical errors and individual sentence structure. This has frustrated several of the people that I have tutored, as they think that is just what I am there for. However, I believe writing is much more than the grammar that it instills, even though that is also incredibly important. I believe students need to overcome the fear of what they are saying as being wrong, and instead express their ideas in a consistent manner. What is most important is the ideas, and as long as long as the grammatical errors are not atrocious and not impeding the interpretation of the piece, the focus of writing center sessions should be about the voice of the speaker, and if the message and thesis is passionate and consistent.

Social Media: Not all Doom and Gloom

I was reading an interesting article in which a journalist who had recently written a novel We Are Smarter than We Think details the positive outcomes of the Internet and social media. Clive Thompson argues,

“So what is it that these tools can do differently, that is unique to them? Well, one good example is allowing children to write for this incredible, global audience. When kids are writing a paper for a teacher, they sort of don’t care, because they know the teacher doesn’t care, they are being paid to read this, it’s just an assignment and a grade. But as soon as you connect them with an authentic audience, the same way adults do on blogs and Twitter, the kids completely throw themselves into the work.”

I believe that he does pose a point, that as long as these matters of social media are controlled in educational settings, they can pose as a beneficial learning tool for the youth of our nation. Additionally, while using these platforms of social media, teachers can attach lessons on controlling access to social media, and how to responsibly use it. That way, students can possess certain tools to better protect themselves from the social anxieties that the Internet can harbor.

Machinelike Apocalypse?

“In the world of 2001, people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine. That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.” When I read this, I honestly got a bit scared for the reason that Kubrick’s prophesy is already in manifestation. First and foremost, I don’t believe the “machinelike humans” are everywhere, especially in regions/cities/countries with less access to the world of internet. But for those locations that do, the “machinelike humans” seem to be surfacing. Generally, the notion of the “machinelike human” is one who is wholely influenced by the internet in areas such as body image, fashion trends, political affairs, religion, entertainment, and so on. It seems as though some of us live through the lens of the internet or the social media. Take the ice bucket challenge for instance, which swamped all social and informative outlets including the news last summer. My gosh, just think of how powerful the media can be! Some of us are now heavily relying on these outlets to craft our own lives, which in a way is turning us into these “machinelike humans,” because most of our decisions may unconsciously be influenced by our media. Now this doesn’t apply to everyone, but by allowing the “machinelike” characteristics to manifest, we truly are flattening our own intelligence into artificial intelligence. Now my question is, is this going to eradicate our individuality pertaining to intelligence and creativity as we know it?

Learning to Crawl before Walking

Back to the subject of what to teach in writing class, my professor had us do a very interesting exercise my freshman year at the start of every class. It was considered a free-write exercise, in that we would just practice strict stream-of-consciousness writing. Whatever thought popped into our heads, we would have to write it down. Our professor’s one rule was that we were not allowed to stop writing for the entire ten minutes. Even if we ran out of things to say for a couple of seconds, we were supposed to write ‘I have run out of things to say at this moment’. Before my first entry, I thought this was going to be a simple exercise and did not understand the merits whatsoever. However, as I began to write, i found myself plagued by grammatical doubts and the consistent need to proofread whatever I was writing. This is what my professor was trying to prevent. She instructed us after our first attempt that she wanted us to forget the form and structure of writing that had been so uncompromisingly ingrained into us throughout high school. She wanted us to be able to develop our own form of writing at its most minimal stage, and then begin to build on it from there as we progressed further into the semester. It was one of those lessons where I wasn’t able to appreciate it until after the course had ended. For quite some time, I had trouble expressing my ideas in a flowing and consistent manner. My stream of thought was consistently interrupted by an annoying editor in the back of my mind that was trying to make the paragraph perfect before I even knew what I wanted the paragraph to be. This exercise gave me a clearer vision as to what I wanted my writing to take the shape of for a specific paper, and was able to let me organize and outline my essays more efficiently. I believe that this exercise should be implemented in many core curriculums, even starting as early as high school. Because even though there is a certain set of rules that one has to follow for an efficient, readable paper, the ability to let words flow freely is a great gift that unlocks a writer’s potential.

Discrepancies of What to Study in College is a ‘Major’ Problem

Back to our discussion on January 16th, we were discussing the stigmas that are attached to an array of majors when in college. I personally have been affected by this, as one day I was in the ISE lab, and I heard a group of nursing majors making some disparaging comments about the English major, and how they have to do so much more work, and what they will end up doing with their lives will make a real difference in the world. While I truly believe that nurses are a wonderful resource and should truly be respected, I could not help but find what they were saying offensive. It made me being to think again that the major that we choose depends on what we are good at and what we can envision doing successfully–maybe not right away, but someday in the future. I do not think that there is a sufficient way to measure success or if what we are doing with the knowledge we have acquired from school is ‘making a difference’. Every major is important in its own right, and it does not make for a cohesive existence if there are stigmas and prejudices attached to each of them like crude labels. I began to think of ways that these relations could be improved, and began to think about the FYE class that UD offers. I thought that there could be a chapter of the class devoted to why it is important that the university makes us take breadth requirements, and the reasoning behind it. Even though I do not know how this would play out on a grand scale, I believe the effects would be beneficial in that it would teach tolerance and a readiness to accept and embrace other majors and spheres of learning different than what a particular student might be pursuing.

Plagiarism

Today in class we talked about plagiarism and explored the different issues involving it.  In high school we always used sites such as turnitin.com that would detect plagiarism.  I was not a fan of this site, no matter what I wrote, cited or not, it always seemed to say that it was not “fully” my work.  This caused me so much stress, I was not meaning to take others work or ideas.  I then noticed that even if I quoted others work it still was detected.  I believe that teachers, especially in high school, use these sites to scare the students and make sure that they are not just copying a full essay and submitting it.  In my opinion, I think that it can be difficult to write a paper and have it completely be your own thoughts.  Although you may think that you are creating an original argument, it is very likely that someone out there has also written a paper about this subject.  I also find it difficult because at times I may unconsciously write something very close to what I previously read.  When writing a research paper I believe that is it very important to read the sources I am using at a full, then closing it and writing what I think in my own words. Then you can go back and add quotes in places that you believe need them.  I do believe that plagiarism is wrong and is a problem in our society today with all of the information available on the Internet, but I do find it difficult to detect what may actually be plagiarism because of this as well.