Oh, and one more observation to round out my first week at seminary.
Tenth, it feels amazing to be back in a place that uses B.C. and A.D. to describe dates in history.
When I was taking a few undergraduate writing courses for pleasure a year or so ago, I kinda shrugged off the new-to-me B.C.E. (before common era) and C.E. (common era) dating convention as, “that’s redonkulous, but whatever.” (If you’re older than me and haven’t been in college recently, these days colleges (maybe all schools?) call B.C., B.C.E., ie 700 B.C. is 700 B.C.E. and call years formerly designated as A.D., C.E.–this year is 2015 C.E.–not 2015 A.D.) (Too many parentheses–sorry–but does anyone else crack up that they couldn’t get away from the letters B and C?) Despite only being 34 years old, I feel like others must view me as a crotchety, old, slave-owning white man when I confess that I am happy to be among honest historians again. Seriously, how in the world can someone honestly describe what makes BCE change to CE without mentioning a certain Jew? (That’s a serious question. Tell me.)
“Pete, I think that that was the line.”
“There are so many couples here.”
“We’re the cutest couple in this place,” say two teenage girls loud enough for 1995 to hear after taking a selfie.
A flock of college students approach a twenty foot tall stack of folded quilts. To the agreement of the rest, one female righteously asserts, “They should give these to the homeless.”
“I don’t think I’m a museum person.”
“I mean it’s alright, but I’m not that intrigued or even empathetic to the artwork. I don’t get most of it. I saw that Picasso piece. I was impressed that I was actually looking at a Picasso. Really, though, all I know is he cut off his ear.”
“He was insane.”
“Right. I will say this though. You and I, and H-, we’re walking around here, looking around. When you see something you like, you walk away, and I don’t think twice. I’ve been doing the same. H- too. Then we find each other and move on. It’s a very nice pace. But I’ve never seen couples do that. Have you been watching the guy’s faces as they follow their women around? Art is a very individual thing, no?”
“I have. Did you see that one, the dude with that smokin’ redhead by where we had H- dancing to the African drums? He looked miserable.”
“Oh my god. George. Read that first sentence over there.”
George turns and reads about Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s Trade Canoe for Don Quixote piece.
Indian canoes were used on the river highways for thousands of years, but after the Great Invasion, they were also used by trappers, traders and U.S. government agents.
His head quickly retreats an inch in disbelief before turning to Pete.
“I know. Great Invasion. How does that get published? Just stick to drawing lady.”
“I wonder how far she’ll get before she realizes you’re not next to her.”
“I don’t know. She’s been doing it all day.”
Pete quickens his pace to keep H- in sight.
“Little girl! Little girl! Where’s your pare-”
“Sir, you need to stay in the same room as your child. You don’t know how many kids we lose here.”
The German word’s English meaning can be “nice one”, “beautiful”, “lovely”, even the simple, yet elegant, “good”. “Fish-hooker”, however, is nowhere on the Google Translate list of twenty-two words/concepts. Then again, he doesn’t go by Schoen these days. It’s too difficult to pronounce, he says.
I still prefer Schoen (pronounced “Shane”) though. You see, for me, Schoen was a senior in the fraternity that I was certain I’d never join. And Schoen ended up being my tag-team wrestling partner against a heavyweight Brent and lightweight Climer. Of course, while freshmen might be bold enough to challenge seniors, no senior would ever risk losing to a freshman, so despite the unpredictable nature of tag-team wrestling, I wrestled Climer and Schoen took on Brent. The match-up was more even than expected, Climer’s gangliness undoing much of my strength, and Brent’s weight putting to test much of Schoen’s.
The rectangular room had newer carpet, not plush, but fuller than the thin stuff commonly found in high traffic areas. Blue folding chairs lined the walls. The lighting was excellent. Anytime a wrestler’s energy or motivation began to fade his partner would tag in. Consequently, the other partner tagged in. My confidence in Schoen never faltered. One can imagine my surprise, then, as Brent managed (likely a surprise to himself) to maneuver Schoen into a nasty headlock. Wriggling like a python’s prey at first, Schoen quickly realized the futility of purposeless movement. Instead, he opted for a move that is illegal in every version of sanctioned combat across the globe: the fish hook.
For the ladies, the fish-hook is a tactic where one combatant curves his index finger into the shape of a “fish-hook” and places it into his enemies mouth. Obviously, this act alone would cause no advantage. What does cause an advantage is when this finger pulls against the cheek of the enemy. So picture the scene with me. Brent was standing a full head higher than Schoen, holding him in a head lock. They were spinning in circles. They were spinning in circles because Schoen, on his knees, was reaching up with one free hand and fish-hooking Brent’s right cheek. Eventually (moments like these do not last) I heard I tear. I guessed that Schoen had torn Brent’s cheek. Raising my guess to the level of certainty, Brent immediately tapped out, and as Schoen removed his finger, ran to the restroom.
Thick. The anticipation was thick. Breathing heavy, but relieved to be out of the headlock, Schoen lowered his chin towards his chest while he raised his eyebrows and stared at me. It was a knowing nod, a victor’s nod.
The restroom door handle’s jiggle announced Brent’s reappearance.
“Dude, I just vomited,” said Brent.
Apparently, Schoen’s finger had touched a nerve, so to speak. I know I was hooked.
This blog has a persona that I’ve been attempting to carefully control. It hasn’t been the full picture, though, and sometimes I don’t feel good about not sharing everything. As an experiment then, here’s some of what you’ve been missing:
“Hi Pete…maybe not cold blooded, but perhaps a bit narrow visioned, or at least inconsiderate, as a result of white male privilege…brutal enslavement of women is not a thing of the past. Sadly, that is not made up. And I disagree that it was “cured” by the U.S. military riding in on their white horse. It happens here too.”
I just finished watching “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and I have to say I’m in the mood to talk about my feelings. Brutal enslavement of women is not sanctioned by anyone (public or private) in the United States of America.
What are you even talking about?
Individual crimes happen, sure, but those will never stop happening. In fact, I heard the other day that a white male was murdered. I cried myself to sleep that night. Because I’m white. And I’m a male.
The terrible crimes against women that happen in America and occasionally are bizarre enough to receive national news coverage (which are the only things I can possibly imagine you’re referencing as evidence of women being enslaved “here”–you do know slavery is against the law here, right?), these individual crimes aren’t even in the same categorical universe as the situation in Afghanistan–the situation that is causing Afghan women to choose to burn themselves alive.
Wait a minute. I think I know what’s happened here. Yes, it’s all becoming clear now. Because I look like your dad, who I can only assume you hate, you think you get to bring up my “race” or my “culture” or my “ethnicity” without fear of reprisal. That must be it. Am I close?
To be clear: (I was taught once to not use the phrase “I think” when writing, because of course each of us only ever writes our opinion. But for those of you who haven’t learned that ev-er-y-thing is opinion, I’ll use “I think” here.) I read M-‘s poem. I thought it was good. I didn’t think it was great. But I thought it had the potential to be great. I never doubted that Afghan girls were burning themselves alive, though I don’t have time to focus on the news these days, and until reading the poem, I wasn’t aware they were doing this. The purpose of this course is to teach us to write better, teach us to use imagery, etc., teach us to write in a way that causes the reader–any reader–to feel what we (the writer) intended to be felt. I did not “feel” that M-‘s word choice was as effectively-imagery-ridden as it could be, and, in my own style, I told her as much.
S-, R-, and K-, that you chimed in on this discussion did nothing except reveal how misaligned your understandings’ of life on planet Earth are. Suffice it to say, because I have responded to you despite the fact that you used words like “offended” and “inconsiderate”, I’m now very afraid that some actual repercussion will occur, and, if so, that could result in me losing some money. Because I clearly think I know everything, I composed a swan song that I’d like to share with you now. Please write this down, and when able, commit it to memory:
College is the last time in your life
When you might be given actual honest feedback.
However, at your bidding, in this class, and from now on,
I’ll only say the most unoffensive and considerate things about everything you write.
That should cause
Some real growth.
I know I’m
Looking forward to it.
“She has to know, right?”
“I don’t know, man. Does she? Know what?”
“Know that her words are very flattering. Very, very flattering.”
“I mean, sure she’s your teacher and we’d all like to believe teachers are more aware than their students, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s thinking like you think she’s thinking.”
“I’m not saying I know how she’s thinking. I’m just saying that it has been a long time since anyone has said I’m fascinating, endearing, and an enigma.”
“Whoa, slow down buddy. She didn’t say you were fascinating, endearing and enigmatic. She said your writing was.”
“Hey, don’t ruin this moment for me.”
“So what do you think my next play should be?”
“All I know is that she’s your number one contender right now.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“You said she reads your blog?”
“She said she does. She even used the word ‘wildly’ to describe an aspect of them. ‘Wildly’. I like that.”
“You told me that she said your blog was ‘wildly different’ than your discussion posts for class.”
“Like I said, ‘wildly’.”
Those of you who left the world of academia long ago might be unaware that there is a debate raging about the humanities. Are college students interested in majoring in the humanities? Are they not? Would they like to, but their practical mind says, “Don’t be a fool. There are no jobs for humanities majors.”
My question is why is this debate even happening? I suspect that students who major in vocational type degrees get their long-sought-after jobs and live happily ever after. Just like students who major in the humanities or liberal arts degrees don’t get jobs related to their degree and live happily ever after.
There is some notion that accompanies attending college which goes something like, “If only we all do this right, we can achieve heaven on earth.” Is that what we (humans) really think?
I say do what you want. I wanted to get good grades and learn about why people behave they way they do. So I majored in sociology. Some people want to become very rich, so they major in fields that lend themselves to making money. Other people want to paint, so they major in art. I don’t see why this is a discussion. Am I missing something?
I want to be the best that I can be. Isn’t that enough? Why do I have to conform to your utopia? How about this: You just do your best rather than worry about forecasting what will happen if nobody studies English or History anymore. And I’ll do the same. And then we’ll see what happens.
Dear Professor E–:
I’ve been thinking about our relationship a lot lately. Do you remember how we first met? You, the professor–the gatekeeper; me, the seeker? I remember it like it was yesterday. You lectured me on the importance of listening. Always the professional, you wouldn’t fudge my grade just because I made really good arguments why I didn’t turn in my work on time. Didn’t you understand that I was just coming out of another relationship and didn’t have time for you yet?
Without you, I would’ve never experienced growth. Of course, I’m referring to how you led me from veritable darkness to light in the areas of critical reading, argument analysis, and revision.
Like a dream, you asked me to explore anything I wanted. You challenged me to research a body of work in a way I never before had. You even allowed me to use webpages. More than that, you loosed the first-person-perspective that I had bottled up inside for all these years. Specifically, I told you I wanted to go to Mars. Like a good friend, you encouraged this dream, while subtly encouraging me to do a little research before packing. Now, neither of us were greenhorns when we met, but it is because of your relentless attention that I discovered how to improve my ability to read for understanding and then communicate my findings via the written word. The only pity is that, according to my research, there is a great chance that after I’m selected to move to Mars, our relationship will be forced to end. I hope you’ll write.
Next, I wanted to thank you for the invaluable lessons in argument analysis. Before we met, I always thought I won my arguments using “the right way.” Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to learn that I could be right using several different methods of argumentation. Formal logic is difficult to defeat, but with your help I learned that it isn’t the only kind. You taught me The Toulmin Model, which comes in most handy when reading an argument that is so shameful that the writer hides what they really have to say. Just the same, I want to be good at everything, so learning how to be forgiving during a debate proved invaluable. And then, do you remember how you kept me up late reading about Rogerian analysis? You know, when you apply the time-tested art of flattery to win over dissenters? The whole, “Let me outline your argument for you, praise it, but then subtly recommend that my way is still better.” It’s really touching how it works. If you ever get sick of me, I just may use it to win you back—watch out!
Finally, and really through everything—thick and thin—you taught me how to keep an every-watchful eye on my own writing. Revise, revise, revise. Over the last several months, you asked me to do a lot of things. Sometimes I was uncomfortable, yet you always required that I take it a step at a time. It was here where I learned that the process is as important as the product.
So here we sit—you and me—in this crazy, crazy world. Who can know what the future holds? All I can hope is that you’ll stay in mine. It’s been wonderful thus far Professor E–. You’re the best.
Pete, Favorite Student
“Pilots are so much better than everyone else,” thought a young boy once. As a grown man, I think we should all agree with the boy. A few years ago, I found a spare moment hidden in Iraq of all places. That moment contained irrefutable proof that pilots are better than everyone else. Pilots are better because they live many lifetimes, while other people only live one lifetime. Confusing? Maybe it’d help if I said that pilots are better because they live many mini-lifetimes. Any better? No? Allow me to explain.
A mini-lifetime is the term I use to capture the three-part event of flight: takeoff, flight, and landing. In order for the definition’s perfection to become perceivable, you must understand that a lifetime has three key parts: birth, life, and death. To critical readers, I confess that there certainly are other professions or human activities that contain just three parts; however, I’m convinced you’ll see there is a special genius in this metaphor’s specific use of pilots.
To begin the comparison, birth and takeoff share a foundational similarity. Both initiate a sequence of events that will only ever come to an end. Next, life and flight are that sequence. They are the continuation of birth and takeoff. Moreover, during life and flight, no matter how a person lives or how a person flies, a tragic end lingers at a moment’s distance. Finally, the death (near death, at least) and landing phases offer a unique ability to look back over the life and flight phases with the express purpose of forming judgments. For pilots, these judgments, of course, are not the end–but the beginning. The end is the application of the lessons learned. Note, that pilots repeat this three-chapter cycle almost daily. And while doing so, they become very proficient at improving their flying skills through the post-landing debriefs. Grounded folk, on the other hand, are not afforded these vantage points. They must make extreme efforts to be still, take inventory, determine lessons learned, and then apply the lessons as they resume living out their lifetime. Consequently, pilots living all these mini-lifetimes–do not discount the very real threat of death this metaphor demands–are in the habit of debriefing their own grounded lives each day, week, month, year, or whatever time period and applying the lessons learned to the next iteration. That is why they are better.
Whew! Glad you’re still with me, as I have great news. That was just the introduction. Let’s not kid ourselves, it was worth it. Next up, the part of the assignment you’ve been waiting for: more meta-for. (Yep, that’s my humor.)
The assignment was to write a(n interesting) paper relating grammar to some other system in life. Naturally, it follows that if my flying-life metaphor is so perfect, grammar being a part of life, then grammar should be able to be explained via flying. As Rafiki tells newly-mature Simba in the Disney classic, The Lion King, “Eet is time.” It is time to push the metaphor further.
Clear as day, the first requirement for grammar is words. Lady Luck, beauty that she is, smiled down on me as it became clear that flying also needs one thing more than anything else: pilots. So words must be pilots. Obviously, humans don’t have physiological wings, so we invented machines that could lift us into the air. Just as all humans are not pilots, all sounds humans emit are not words. Within the sounds that can be classified as words, there are subtle intonations and pauses. When creating written language, earlier man decided these subtle intonations and pauses required special written markings, different from alpha characters. Whatever name initially given, today we call them punctuation. Like a pilot’s aircraft, punctuation is a tool to help words achieve their God-given purpose. A pilot’s purpose is to accomplish a mission and he does so using an aircraft. A written word’s purpose is to accomplish communication and it does so using punctuation.
With words and punctuation under my belt, I pressed onward. What more could I synthesize? I knew that individual words and punctuation didn’t communicate as well as a group of words, a sentence, does. Equivalently, pilots and aircraft don’t accomplish missions in a single action–they need a group of actions. So a sentence, then, is the coordinated cycle of takeoff/flight/landing. Each takeoff is the capital letter and marks the beginning of an independent, complete thought. The flight is that thought. And the landing is the concluding punctuation. (This is pretend world. It’s okay if the punctuation is both the aircraft and the landing…think how a period can be both part of an ellipses and a period at the same time if you need to.)
But wait! Stop here, and consider a new revelation. Consider how an exclamation point has varied tones. I said consider how an exclamation point has varied tones, silly! Then consider how a perfect landing would be a soft, beautiful exclamation point as in, “Man, that landing was as sublime as an outdoor professional hockey game being graced by light falling snow!” While a crash landing would be a hard, abrupt exclamation point found in, “Bam!” At first daunting, the question mark still fits the metaphor. Can you picture a student pilot attempting to land a helicopter? Sometimes the student thinks he has landed just once, when the instructor knows it was at least twice. After all, there is no place to record number-of-times-student-bounced-the-helicopter-before-finally-landing, is there?
Next, while it is possible that a mission can be comprised of just one takeoff/fly/land iteration, most missions include several such iterations. Similarly, it is true that some sentences can be paragraphs themselves. A more elementary view is that sentences need other sentences in order to be a paragraph. A paragraph is usually a more effective method of communication than a sentence or word. This, then, is the same as how missions containing several iterations of takeoff/fly/land are usually more effective missions. Specifically, if a pilot flies to a destination to pick up someone, flies to a second destination to drop them off, and then flies back to the home airfield, that is more effective than just one of those three iterations. One effective mission composed of three total flights.
This metaphor becomes ever easier as we move away from the basics, into the more subjective parts of written language. Lexicon, or an individual’s dictionary, would be the capabilities of a particular pilot, whereas diction would be his or her style. Metadiscourse, or the words and phrases that help the reader understand the writer’s meaning, would be a pilot’s clothing. Is the pilot wearing a uniform, or just dressed in plain clothes? Just as a writer’s intentional metadiscourse helps the reader understand the writer, a pilot’s clothes conveys who the pilot works for, how good he or she is, how experienced he or she is, and what type of missions the pilot accomplishes (passenger transport, combat, reconnaissance, etc.).
In the end, this assignment is over before it begins. That grammar can be synthesized into any system shows that it can be synthesized into every system. That’s because grammar is a system. That’s the point, isn’t it? The real trouble for sticklers of grammar, however, is not that people don’t use the system; it’s that life goes on whether people use or ignore the system. This, just as life goes on whether or not human flight occurs. If there is any overarching lesson this metaphor can teach us, it is that grammar is not a solution to a problem. It is a tool to be used by those who care to use it. Just like flying.
To begin, I learned that an email containing my last blog Special Fourth of July Interview with A Mugwump was not sent. Read it.
For today, read on to reveal the secret.
Censorship is murder. To be a human, as opposed to all other known life forms, requires an unfettered ability to communicate one’s value (in the form of words, images, or music) to other humans. And an external restriction of a person’s expression of value is the same as telling them they have no value. In other words, to censor is a malicious attempt to end the censored’s life.
Defining censorship in this way is meant to cause careful consideration of censorship. Exploring censorship at its most basic level is the only way to get to the root of the issue, by definition.
The fairly recent article, “The Ed Sullivan Show and the (Censored) Sounds of the Sixties”* is the case study in question. In it, Ian Inglis discusses the widely popular Ed Sullivan Show and its unique experiences with censorship. That television show showcased up and coming performers every Sunday night. Popular wisdom states that if a performer appeared on the show, he/she would achieve great material success. The article discusses three now well-known performers and their experiences with Ed Sullivan’s censorship.
First, after being selected to appear on the show, Bob Dylan was asked to perform a totally different song than the one he had planned to perform on the show. Second, the Rolling Stones were asked to change a lyric; they did. Third, The Doors were asked to change a line from one of their songs. They paid lip-service to the request, but when live, they did not change it. Inglis concludes, “Ironically, one consequence of the censorship suffered by all three performers was that their positions were unequivocally enhanced (Inglis 571).”
Inglis rather wordily describes the simple fact that censorship is murder. Each instance demonstrates this perfectly. First look at what happened to the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote the song in question, “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Before their performance, an outside entity changed the lyrics. Logically, though subtlety, this means that while the performers looked similar to the Rolling Stones, they were in fact some other band, some new band. By allowing their lyrics to be changed, in effect, the Rolling Stones murdered themselves for that night. Next, take Bob Dylan. He wouldn’t concede to the censor, so he didn’t perform on the show. It is now clear that The Ed Sullivan show never wanted Bob Dylan to perform. They wanted someone who looked, acted, and sounded like Bob Dylan to perform. When they couldn’t get what they wanted, they murdered him. Finally, take the Doors. Long live the Doors. They played the game, they fooled the “man”, and they played their song, uncensored. The only performers who remained unscathed, then, were the Doors.
In my own life, an even more appalling proof that censorship is murder took place when I was young. My mom censored my sister from the New Kids On The Block “Step By Step” album. To the uninformed, this may not seem like murder. But those of us who are close to the situation know that the New Kids On The Block died after releasing that album. The New Kids On The Block never released another original studio album after “Step By Step.” The five men who made up that group did eventually release more original songs, but under the name NKOTB instead. How can this be explained except to say that censorship is murder?
The question remaining is why did Ed Sullivan and my mom choose to murder these performers? To discover the answer, we must turn inward. Violence is often committed against those who we find threatening. Murder is the fullest expression of violence and is resorted to when all other attempts fail. Time and time again we see that if humans feel they are in danger, they remove the danger. If necessary, they remove the danger through violence. What danger can possibly exist in the form of words, music, and/or images? In and of themselves, they are unable to physically harm a person. Therefore, the danger in question must be regarding the mind. A short story can help explain the deficiencies in this way of thinking.
Aircraft pilots are people who professionally deal with avoiding death on a daily basis. To draw the metaphor, we could say they professionally deal with avoiding danger of any sort. This is very different than most other professions. But it is common knowledge within the aviation community that at the end of the day a pilot really just wants to have successfully completed the same number of landings as takeoffs. The point being that a pilot counts success as being alive at the end of each daring flight, not whether or not some particular mission was accomplished.
Pilots avoid danger. Censors believe they protect people from danger. It should prove very instructive, then, to learn how pilots avoid danger. Pilots avoid danger, not by actively avoiding danger. Over time, the community of pilots discovered that if they attempted to avoid danger, they only compounded the danger already inherent to human flight. Instead, they fly correctly. They focus their energy on learning the right way to fly. Naturally, this matches the safest way, but it is important to note that pilots think in ‘correct vs. incorrect’ not ‘safe vs. dangerous’ terms.
Regarding words/music/images, the same principle should be applied. Artist’s (people) should not be censored because their art may cause harm. They should be encouraged to achieve their fullest potential. Regardless of whether the work is appropriate or inappropriate, it may have value. The only way to measure the value is to determine its quality. Ancient wisdom would have us believe that there is a time and place for everything. Rather than focus on the–as demonstrated by pilots–ineffective idea that danger can be avoided if it is censored, how much better informed could a population be if it only cared about quality?
Returning to the thesis then, we need to remind ourselves that what we’re really discussing is freedom and value. If Ed Sullivan would have simply acknowledged those three performers had value and the public wanted to see them, not look-a-likes, the results would have been untainted. As it stands, the saying, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” rues the day. Would those three performers have had such success if no censorship attempt was made? Probably. So the fool, then, is Ed Sullivan. The fool, then, is the censor. Humans require the freedom to communicate their value. Inherent to the act of censorship is the death of this freedom to communicate. Furthermore, we have seen that censorship does not—cannot—deter any coming danger.
*INGLIS, I. (2006), The Ed Sullivan Show and the (Censored) Sounds of the Sixties. The Journal of Popular Culture, 39: 558–575. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-5931.2006.00279.x
I’ve been taking writing courses at UCD since January. One class ended with a pass/fail writing assignment. Failing would also mean failing the course. Below is my passing paper. The assignment was to convince the professor which grade we deserved using by analyzing our previous coursework. It was a class in rhetoric, or the tools that a speaker/writer has at his/her disposal to persuade an audience. The general topic the professor chose to use was the ever appropriate “Gun Control.” We read and analyzed the rhetoric used in several articles including the chapter from Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics which correlated the legalization of abortion to falling crime rates 20 years later. The three types of rhetoric we studied were 1. Logical- if A then B. 2. Ethical – if I you are to be persuaded by me, I must demonstrate credibility to you. 3. Pathetic – An argument can be more persuasive if it literally causes you to have a physical reaction, such as fear, crying, nausea etc. With that said, enjoy the paper. Oh, and I changed the professor’s name. Enjoy.
I’d like you to close your eyes. Visualize with me a day in the not too distant future. The year is 2021. It is Spring. You arrive at the university as always. You notice the air lacks the usually pervasive petroleum scent. You excitedly think, “They did it. They really did it. Clean cars are everywhere.” As you walk to the building, the sound of fabric flapping in the wind rouses you out of a pleasant daydream. You find yourself staring at Old Glory. Wiping away the start of a nostalgic tear, you overhear students discussing Hillary’s inauguration speech indicating to you that she has been reelected President. A smile forms. Nearing the building, you begin to notice several of the students and faculty looking at you and smiling. Worrying first that they’re noticing a fashion faux pas; you give yourself a subtle once-over only to breathe a sigh of relief that everything is as it should be. Walking further you notice the smiles have a certain quality to them; a level of envy, if you will. “I could get used to this.,” you think.
“Is it true?,” one particularly stunning student asks.
“Uhh…,” you stammer.
“Is it true?,” the student repeats, apparently star-struck.
As you search for some clue about what is going on, you see it. How could you not see it? A banner across the entirety of the building reads, “Admits Pete, the ‘Humble’, ‘I wish I could take the credit. But the truth is I owe everything, the skills, the money -everything- to my first English Writing professor, John Smith, who can still be found instructing the art of writing at the University of Colorado Denver.’”
Okay, now open your eyes.
How would you like to live in that future? The university would surely give you a raise. They’d also permit-not just permit-but expect you to capitalize on all the talk show invitations you’d surely receive. There would definitely be a book deal. Heck, maybe my future self would even be gracious enough to be your co-author to ensure you’re rewarded for all your efforts.
There’s a catch though. My future self can’t possibly find it in his heart to pay back people who helped him achieve his dreams if they didn’t actually help. As a professor of mine, there is only thing left for you to do in order to help me make my dream a reality. I need my grade in your class to be a solid “A”. Not a skin-of-my-teeth “A-“; not a what-exactly-did-he-do-to-deserve-it? “A+”; just an “A”.
There are only two data-points from CANVAS (the web-based syllabus) relevant to this discussion. First, I actively participated in every assignment save one. Not just participated mind you, but actively participated. This was best demonstrated by my usually being the first person to post. On top of that, the points that I brought up in student discussions caused people to actually think, while demonstrating that I actually had to think to develop them. No “CTRL C” then “CTRL V” for me. There was even one student who consistently praised my posts for their ability to make her think outside the box. “Pete- Your post’s always stimulate other thoughts for me. I didn’t think about this approach to pathos.” Second, my average to date is 85.9%. If you run the numbers you’ll discover that even a passing grade on this paper leaves me in need of one percentage point in order to mathematically achieve the “A” I think I deserve. Here’s where the 1% comes from: This paper. It is a demonstration of my command of ethical and pathetic rhetoric wrapped in a bow called logical rhetoric. Assuming the paper clearly proves to you that I understand those two types of rhetoric, the only conclusion for you to draw is that I also understand logical rhetoric at an “A” level. When you reach the end of this paper, ask yourself, could other than an “A” student have written this paper? Seriously, to take just one example, could any self-evaluation of my Pathetic Analysis paper better demonstrate my understanding of pathetic rhetoric than this paper’s opening? We’re in agreement then.
Returning to the task at hand, the way ahead, as I see it, has two paths. First, stick to the description of this assignment you offered, in which I’d evaluate my previously demonstrated submitted works in defense of the letter grade argued for in this paper. BO-ring. Or second, accept the challenge you offered in those papers to develop a truly intriguing argument. You see, in my training to become an instructor pilot I was taught that “learning” is defined as “a change in behavior based on experience.” “Learning” therefore is about change, not past performance. This definition is at odds with colloquial peanut-gallery commentary (a southern accent works best), “Ya’ larn somethin’ new every day, don’t ya’?,” isn’t it? Higher education is about learning. Accordingly, I’m choosing to use my 2000 words “gloves off” to make the most persuasive argument I can that I deserve a solid “A”.
The fact that I nearly aced all the minor assignments, makes discussing the big three papers the appropriate place to start. Scoring an 80% on the Logical Analysis gave us (you-professor and me-student) a baseline to work with. That grade and the associated commentary taught me three key things which resulted in raising my respect for you. One, you clearly were going to be reading my papers. Two, you know what you’re doing. Three, I clearly misunderstood the assignment. Oh well. In either case, I found myself very motivated to really try to impress you with my Ethical Analysis.
The 80% I received on the Ethical Analysis could communicate that I didn’t learn from before, but that is not how I interpreted it. This time I was mentally arguing with your stated reasons for the 80%, rather than thinking, “Wow. I totally misunderstood the instructions.” Nothing to do with changing that grade, but rather persuading you that I demonstrably performed at an “A” level in this class, I’d like to discuss your feedback to my Ethical Analysis paper a bit. You wrote, “In the end, I have a hard time seeing how these two threads (he’s wrong, but he’s incredibly persuasive) come together.” The truth that your comment captured was not that these two threads are irreconcilable. Levitt can indeed be wrong or irrelevant on the whole, and at the same time a master of ethical (/logical/pathetic) rhetoric. Where I failed in my analysis was in spelling out that there were two different categories. See the difference? In the first paper, I didn’t understand that there were different types of rhetoric. My previously acquired logical abilities carried me to an 80%. Paper number two showed I still had far to go, but I now understood that there were several nuanced types of rhetoric. In order to develop an intriguing thesis in my analysis of Levitt’s use of ethical rhetoric, I needed to venture to a more abstract analysis of Levitt’s argument than ethical rhetoric. That I did so without explanation is reflected in my grade. In the film “Boondock Saints,” there is a scene where a mob-peon is trying to convince two newly-vigilante brothers that they should let him help them track and kill the bad guys because his position in the mob has given him intimate knowledge of the bad guy’s lifestyles. As he makes his case, he erupts with such passionate reasoning that he starts buying wholesale into the idea himself. In a moment of unmatched hilarity he has the epiphany, “We could kill everyone!” It’s a funny moment precisely because it’s illogical. Killing everyone wouldn’t leave anyone to enjoy the new crime-free society. Similarly, Levitt implies (he is never assertive regarding how his conclusions should be used) either that abortion is okay because it acts as a crime-reduction strategy, which is totally contradictory; or that we need to really make sure that we make babies only when we can care for them according to some standard. This second reason being nothing more than what various groups of people have been saying since the beginning of time. My conclusion remains, Levitt is wrong. Yet, his status as an author of a best-selling book-turned-movie proves he is a master of at least ethical rhetoric. (Along with all the reasons we can single out in an analysis of his use of ethical rhetoric). To be clear, I am not attempting to persuade you that I am right about Levitt here. Instead, my point is that despite the same 80% number grade, I argue that your commentary responding to my analysis of Levitt as “wrong but persuasive” inherently demonstrates that I changed my behavior due to the experience of reading your feedback to my Logical Analysis. Put more simply, your commentary revealed that I had learned.
Then there’s the recently graded Pathetic Analysis. 89%. Oh, and on top of the fact that you thought it nine points stronger-a-paper than the other two, you even wrote, “I do think this is easily your best paper yet.” The result of you teaching is me learning.
How to most effectively use my remaining 500-ish words? One way might be to point out that I am more than aware that this entire paper has been about me. While I’d like to, I can’t take full credit for this. The assignment is to persuade an English Writing professor what grade I’ve earned this semester. I am more than aware that I am taking a tremendous leap of faith by challenging the posted standards for grading this assignment. Just the same, it is worth highlighting that everything in this paper is still applicable even if the student wasn’t me. In fact, I would argue this is one feature of the online English Writing program that I find to be ingenious. I don’t know if anyone thought it through beforehand, but the value of a professor grading a student purely on the student’s written word in an English Writing class is priceless. Over the course of the semester you probably have come to imagine that I am a charismatic, charming and good-looking man. Guilty, all true. And I cannot deny that I normally take full advantage of these qualities in attempting to get what I want in life. I’d be a fool not to, right? But with this online format all those qualities are nullified. I’m left with my words. Throughout, I have only been pleasantly surprised to receive immediate feedback from you and students alike, saying that points I took to be obvious, to my chagrin, actually need explanation. For the first time ever, this grade is not about me, but instead the submitted written words. Therefore, I am totally disinterested in the grade. You must acknowledge that you really don’t know for sure who is writing the words. What if all the words you thought were coming from a human, were actually submitted by a new breakthrough in artificial intelligence called P.E.T.E. or a Persuasive Electronic Typing Entity? Again, this simply illustrates that this grade really isn’t about me. It’s about the work.
That brings us back to square one. After careful self-evaluation, I, Pete or P.E.T.E., am convinced I learned the types of rhetoric, how to analyze other’s use of rhetoric, to purposefully use rhetoric in my own writing, and self-evaluate. I learned this due, in no small part, to the planned content of this course and the individual attention of an expert, you. Could I have performed better on each and every assignment? Always. In the same breath, what grade do I deserve? An “A”. Why? Well, if you don’t know by now, I guess I totally missed my mark. Did I mention the banner will be HUGE?