January 22, 2005

ESSAY

I had heard about Ahmad Al-Qloushi before -- the Kuwaiti student whose college political science professor in California failed his pro-US paper and told him to get psychiatric counseling -- but until I read this post at the Rottweiler, I didn't know I could actually read Al-Qloushi's essay. The English teacher in me was intrigued.

A lot of people in the 'sphere, political science profs included, said they also would have given the essay an F. Several commenters have expressed the idea that if a student can't perform at a higher level than Al-Qloushi, he has no business being in college. That brings up a very delicate issue that I struggle with every day.

The university I work for is specifically designed for soldiers. There are no requirements of any kind for entrance, other than a high school diploma or GED. No ACT, no SAT, no high school transcript; if you want in, you're in. Some of our students are very bright, others are not. Some want to get an education, others want promotion points and couldn't care less about the content of the class. Some, I hate to say, probably have no business being in college, but they are.

So when I grade their essays, by what standard should I grade them? By my own, based on my classes at Truman State University? By a universal standard of Perfect Writing, as if that exists? Or by the standard of other students and how they match up to each other and what we've learned in the class? I generally have taken the latter approach, for better or for worse. I don't know of any other way to grade them; I walk the fine line between grade inflation and concrete benchmarks every day. I teach them structure, and if they follow it (or attempt), they do well. My students do not leave my class thinking like Den Beste or writing like Lileks, but hopefully they leave my class a little better than they came in.

Ahmad Al-Qloushi's essay ain't the greatest in the world. But I've seen far, far worse in my classes. He was also attending a junior college, not a top-rated university, which is where many of his critics work. I'm not saying that he deserved an A, only that perhaps his peers' papers weren't much better. He'd fit in perfectly in my class, where I have many non-native soldiers who write quite poorly. Hell, even my American-born soldiers make the same grammar mistakes Al-Qloushi made.

I'm not trying to justify a grade either way for this student, since I'm not a political science professor, but I can't help but wonder what the rest of the class' essays looked like. Were they similar, and thus did they also fail?

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January 21, 2005

MONEY

My husband's brother returned from Iraq safe and sound yesterday. Just a short six weeks until both boys are home.

And, in honor of the boycotts, yesterday I spent money on a Kitchenaid mixer, Bill Whittle's book, a TV/DVD for our education center, and a trip to Fort Lauderdale. Take that, protestors!

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January 19, 2005

ESSAYS

The other English professor here offered to lend me a publication he uses in his classes that is a compilation of outstanding essays from incoming freshmen at Loyola University. It seemed like a good idea, but I just flipped through the entire thing, and I don't see myself reflected in any of the essays. Not a one. I don't see myself in essays entitled "Reagan-Era Backlash" or "A Socially Unjust Relationship in Wartime America" or "Dissenting Patriots." I don't hear my voice in essays about how money is the root of all evil, how war is always bad, and how the American Dream is "a prevalent [idea], but not a realistic one." And I sure as hell don't want to read an essay about how the 9/11 terrorists were acting under their own sense of justice, thus we can't judge them since justice means different things to different people. Plus I'm pissed off that the prof who lent me the book has dogeared the page on the essay "The Unjust Aspects of U.S. Foreign Policy."

There's not a single voice in this book that speaks to me. There's not a single incoming freshman I can relate to. I keep thinking about that kid from Protest Warrior and getting more and more depressed, knowing that his is a lonely voice.

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January 18, 2005

OH HUSH

John Kerry whines:

In his comments, Kerry also compared the democracy-building efforts in Iraq with voting in the U.S., saying that Americans had their names purged from voting lists and were kept from casting ballots.

Like my brother. Who would've voted Republican.

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January 17, 2005

CONTENT OF OUR CHARACTER

I finished reading The End of Racism the other day, just in time for Martin Luther King Day. I've been thinking about the content of people's character lately. I don't care what color someone is as long as we can find some common ground. I have common ground with Baldilocks, Amritas, Vinod, and Zeyad, and we're all different colors. (Conversely, I have little in common with Wonkette, and we're exactly the same shade of pale.) Blogging is the great equalizer: often you read someone for months before you figure out what they look like, but it doesn't matter because relationships are based on ideas and brains instead of looks. CavX could have three eyeballs, and I wouldn't even care.

I'd say that the military is about the least racist place you can be. The Army discriminates on rank, not color, and there's so much intermarriage and living side by side. Everyone has the same experience in the Army, regardless of color. And my husband joked once that where in the civilian world could most of his big bosses be black (like his COL and MAJ were at the time). Unfortunately though, there are still a lot of people who feel the thumb of racism. Many of my black students write their essays on black issues, on racism, on discrimination. I wish sometimes we could move beyond those issues. I wish we could make it to "the end of racism." I just have a hard time trying to grok why we can't.

Eric posted MLK's essay War and Pacifism over at Thank My Recruiter. We're fighting a war now against people who want us dead because of the content of our character. They want us all dead, black and white. We need to find our common ground and band together to protect our country's character.

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January 16, 2005

LAUGH-IN

Apparently in 1970 there was a popular comedy show in the USSR patterned off of Laugh-In. So Laugh-In dedicated an episode to making fun of the Soviet version of the show, creating a Soviet "party room", Soviet jokes about the past and lack-of future, and a crappy looking wooden wall that they told Soviet knock-knock jokes from. Hilarious stuff. They were poking fun at the bad guys in WWIII. It's too bad times have changed; we're not even supposed to suggest that there is an enemy in WWIV. Apparently in the show 24, the terrorists were portrayed as...horrors...Muslims.

CAIR said it called for the meeting Wednesday -- which included representatives from CAIR's Southern California office and from the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council -- to "address the depiction of a 'Muslim' family that is at the heart of a terror plot in the popular program."

The Washington, D.C.-based group said it was concerned that the portrayal of the family as a terrorist "sleeper cell" may "cast a shadow of suspicion over ordinary American Muslims and could increase Islamophobic stereotyping and bias."

CAIR's statement today said that in addition to distribution of the PSAs, "FOX also gave meeting participants assurances that the program will be balanced in its portrayal of Muslims. Network representatives said that they had already reviewed existing episodes and removed some aspects that could potentially be viewed as stereotypical."

Thirty-five years ago, Laugh-In made the joke "Vy is the chickenk crossing de road? To defected to Poland, but he'll be back!" Today we're not even allowed to make-believe that the people we've been fighting for four years could be the bad guys in a drama. Heaven help us.

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January 15, 2005

PRESCRIPTIVE

As an English professor, I walk the fine line between prescriptive and descriptive grammar. I'm a descriptivist, so if I were the only English teacher my students had to deal with, it wouldn't be such a big deal that I just ended that clause with a preposition. But the students leave my class and move on to a prof who studied in England and is much more prescriptive than I (or should I just go ahead and say "me"?). I don't care if they use contractions or end a sentence with the dreaded preposition, but he might.

Funny story: I once saw a student in my Swedish class insist to our teacher that you can't end a sentence with a preposition. She was horrified that you can do that quite comfortably in other languages and not feel the wrath of your 5th grade teacher.

Amritas has been writing about Ebonics for a few weeks now, and I've been meaning to jump into the conversation. Finally I couldn't stay away when I saw this, a quote from Labov with Amritas' interjections:

Linguists are building on sand until they can answer basic questions: what are the test-retest reliabilities of judgments of grammatical acceptability [that are essential to the Chomskyan enterprise -A]? Under what conditions do introspections match speech production? [That is, under what conditions do linguists' introspective judgments of grammaticality match what is actually being said by speakers? I can declare that a certain structure is 'wrong' in my office, but if millions use it without any impediment to understanding, then it is I who am wrong. -A]

We say things all the time that are completely comprehensible but grammatically wrong. So what makes them "wrong" if we can understand them? Why do I bother pointing out all the places my students need the past perfect tense in their narrative essays when nine times out of ten it makes no difference for understanding the story? Why is it like fingernails on a chalkboard to me when my students use the wrong relative pronoun, when no meaning at all is lost? Why do I even bother reminding them that "between you and me, he is taller than I"?

One of my German friends heard something on the TV that she was convinced was wrong. She was flabbergasted to learn that "It is I" is correct. I'm sure she's never heard it before. Another German was mad to learn that "Me and my husband are going on vacation", though common, is incorrect. They don't hear the prescriptive versions very often.

So what's a girl to do? For now, my strategy has been to refresh my students' memories on the prescriptive versions, all the while with the caveat that languages change and that someday "It is I" will likely be considered wrong since virtually no one will be saying it. But for now they have to sit on the cusp of language change, like it or not.

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January 13, 2005

CUSSING

Oh. My. Lord. Michael Tucker reads my blog. Why anyone reads my blog I'll never understand, but this is huge.

Who the heck is Michael Tucker? Only the guy who filmed Gunner Palace. That's all, no big whoop.

Gulp.

Anyway, gathering self, Tucker is upset that his film will be given an R rating. Yep, soldiers cuss. Tucker humorously quotes General Patton: "You can't run an army without profanity. An army without profanity couldn't fight it's way out of a piss-soaked paper bag." He also alluded to a recent editorial by Jack Valenti about how some ABC affiliates didn't show Saving Private Ryan because of the swear words.

But there are swear words and swear words, and never the twain shall meet.

One of my students and I had a long discussion over the summer as he was trying to gather ideas for his paper on the FCC. One of the things I brought up was how lots of naughty ideas can be expressed without using swear words. The examples I gave him were two songs: "What's Your Fantasy" by Ludacris and "The Bad Touch" by Bloodhound Gang. These songs get played all the time on the radio, but they allude to things far more explicit than the f-word alone would conjure. There are no swear words in "whips and chains, handcuffs / smack a little booty up with my belt" or "love, the kind you clean up with a mop and bucket / like the lost catacombs of Egypt only God knows where we stuck it", but they sure put some images into your mind! You don't need swear words to be explicit.

Conversely, you don't need to be explicit to have swear words. The swearing in Saving Private Ryan is a fact of life. Put 20 men in a life-threatening situation, and you're going to get some colorful language. But it's different than the swearing in a movie like Clerks -- which is also a fact of life but is there for humor -- or the movie Team America -- which I swear Parker and Stone use just to make people mad. The swearing in Gunner Palace is a reflection of reality; it's surely not meant to be titillating like scripted swearing.

When the WTC came crashing down, and the media was recording history in the making, we all heard swear words uttered in fright and horror. Do our children remember that day as a tragic moment in American history or the first day they heard the s-word on TV? Somehow I doubt that's the most important part of the story. The most important part of Gunner Palace or Saving Private Ryan is not that some GI used the f-bomb, but that some GI was there making history.

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January 11, 2005

INHERIT

If you wear a Swedish flag on your clothing in Sweden, it means you are a neo-nazi. I was utterly shocked when my friend taught me that when I lived there. (This knowledge is echoed by singer Maja Ivarsson here, so it's not just that my friend is crazy.) I can't imagine what it must feel like to be ashamed of your flag.

Apollo 11 just landed on the moon: it was amazing. I only wish I had seen the original. And I realized today how freaking cool it is that there's an American flag on the moon. Had we not landed there until 2005, there would be no flag, but we landed in 1969, when it was still OK to think the United States was the best country in the world.

My husband hates the inclusive "we": I certainly had no hand in the moon landing, so I shouldn't put myself in Armstrong's pocket. But I've inherited the mentality that pushed the US to be first. I've inherited the vision that NASA embodies. I've inherited the drive that made Americans work their asses off for ten years simply to go and walk around on a hunk of dust. I'm a product of past determination and success.

There's an American flag on the moon and millions of dollars of equipment floating around in space because Americans decided they were going to the moon. I'm proud I inherited that history.

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THE DUKE

This weekend I also caught a John Wayne double header: Rio Bravo and El Dorado. (I didn't leave the couch much, being sick and all.) Um...is it just me, or are they the same movie? How did John Wayne get away with that? Sheriff gets dumped by a girl, sheriff turns into a drunk, The Duke sobers him up, everyone jokes that he needs a bath, the fresh new sheriff catches the bad guy and puts him in jail, the other bad guys try to bust him out, they capture one of the good guys and offer a trade, there's a shoot-out, John Wayne wins. Oh, and there are two sidekicks: a young whippersnapper named after a state, and a crotchety old man who guards the jail.

Of course I loved them both, because who doesn't love John Wayne (plus Ricky Nelson and James Caan), but that's the same freaking movie.

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January 10, 2005

FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON

My neighbor thrust the series From the Earth to the Moon into my hands and urged me to watch it. The last thing I need in my life is another four DVD box set, so I reluctantly opened it today while I was home sick from work. I have been loving every minute. I'm glad that my knowledge of the space race is scant, so each episode has a surprise ending for me. I have been thinking about the similarities and differences between military and astronaut wives. I have been thinking about the technology race with the Soviets and how it's the last time we've had real competition as a nation. I've been thinking about how this competition drove us to put a man on the moon in a decade, which should have been unthinkable and often was dangerous. I've been thinking about all the poor astronauts who aren't named Aldrin, Armstrong, or Glenn and how underappreciated they are. I've been thinking and getting goosebumps all evening, and I highly recommend the series if you have the chance to see it.

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KID ROCK

I thought I should say something about the kerfluffle over Kid Rock playing the inauguration, but there's nothing else to say except I'm all fer it. Kid Rock understands the threat of terrorism, he split with his friends when they went to see Fahrencrap 9/11, and he's performed in Iraq because he loves his country.

I do think there is something larger at work here. Many of the bloggers who disagree with Michelle Malkin have discussed the future direction of the Republican party. I think this Kid Rock dilemma is indicative of the split between the old timey GOP and the South Park Republicans. We're at a bit of a crossroads here, and the decision over whether or not to include Kid Rock is nothing to sneeze at.

I know that the GOP isn't just fat rich WASPs, but that stereotype still exists for many on the Left. Kid Rock's inclusion at the inauguration could do a lot to break down that stereotype and show young people that it's OK to be a Republican.

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January 08, 2005

NAPSTER

I love the South Park episode where the boys get arrested for downloading music and Lars Ulrich is crying because he has to save up before he can get his gold-plated shark tank bar installed next to the pool. According to Hud, music sales are up. There are two things I don't understand about the Napster hullabaloo. First of all, why don't book authors try to ban libraries? I mean, hundreds of people can just walk in there and read their books for free. Why don't authors get their underpants bunched about book swapping? And secondly, I have bought several CDs this past year, but all from sites like half.com or the Amazon market. The artists don't make any money when I do that either. Why would they freak out if I can download one song for free, when I could get the entire album for $3.70 from someone else and not give them a dime? If it's really about losing money for artists, why aren't they concerned about losing money in other ways? What about music clubs where you get 10 CDs for a penny? Don't they get less money that way too?

Posted by: Sarah at 01:54 AM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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