Sentence of the year

antichrist.jpg David Redfern/Retna LTD.

Dion is the Antichrist of the indie sensibility, an overemoting schmaltz-bot who has somehow managed to convert the ethos of Wal-Mart into sine waves and broadcast them, at kidney-rupturingly high volume, directly into our internal soulPods.

Sam Anderson

This is one of the finest sentences I’ve read this year. But embracing the bile, there are some fine theoretical points to be made:

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Becoming Authority

When I first taught first year writing in Arkansas, I took a cue from my literature background and required the students to write a bibliographic essay in order to establish the distinction between research and opinion. I expressly forbade offering excessive opinion about their sources; I wanted them to place the sources into some relationship with one another. The results were mixed. I got a lot of opinions.

I changed my approach just a bit this time. One of my grad instructors in Minnesota last year required an annotated bibliography and I was confused—I wrote a bibliographic essay instead, and was forced to revise it to fit the alternate form. It dawned on me that an annotated bibliography is a completely different animal that is noticeably easier to write than a bibliographic essay. No relationships are required; an annotated bibliography is simply a string of summaries. When we organize things, opinions seem to be the requisite glue to hold things together. I could more easily eliminate the opinions by eliminating the creative possibilities inherent in structure.

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Question Authority

I’ll be collecting the final portfolios for my first year writing class next Tuesday. I pretty much know what to expect, because I have held conferences and reviewed drafts from the 17 survivors (out of an initial class size of 24). It’s been a long time since I’ve taught first-year writing, and I did it differently this time. I think it worked out reasonably well. I taught it with an emphasis on visual rhetoric initially, but I did not allow that to constrain the student’s topic choices.

The results in most ways were predictable— no one chose to write about visual topics. Most wrote about the same old canned topics that first year students think it will be easiest to write about. However, they seemed to write about them in a much more inquisitive and rebellious fashion. Their analyses seemed deeper than usual, and I think that the structure of the class afforded that. Most wrote with an intensely critical eye toward the reliability of their sources. I’m going to try to write about the choices I made in teaching this class this time, with the hope that if I get to do it again I can improve. The class was a big divergence from ways I’ve done it before—I granted less freedom, asked for more output, and generally got it. There was less stumbling on the way to the goal of their final research papers.

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