From the category archives:


Next Grad Class Idea

by Dr Davis on March 26, 2015

Tom Scheinfeldt [email protected] Mar 18
Next year I’m teaching a class called “Trending.” Each week we’ll pick apart what’s current on social media from a historical point of view.

Trending… from a rhetorical viewpoint. Wouldn’t that be fascinating?


HOF: Not Marked Down

by Dr Davis on January 2, 2015

You were not marked down – you just failed to achieve excellence.

from ptarmigan


HOF: How to Straighten Out a Thesis–Less Hand, More Moon

by Dr Davis on December 24, 2014

Here is the thesis statement of his paper about “Pride and Prejudice”. He examines Darcy’s letter to Daisy (yes, he calls Lizzy Bennet “Daisy” for no known reason):

“Darcy’s character, simply put, is a still an a**hole , but an a**hole with who is trying to overcome his faults .”

Can anyone give me any suggestions as to what to say to him? My impulse is to go all prim and school-marmish on him, but perhaps another approach might work.

Thank you.

My own approach would be a bit different from what’s been suggested here. I’m less inclined to think that appealing to his sense of future professionalism would really be a successful motivator.

Jan van Eyck hands w bookInstead, I’d call him out on the subtext of what he’s doing:

“There is an old Buddhist quote which, when adapted to teaching (as often happens), goes something like this: The best teachers point to the moon and say, ‘Look! See the moon.’ The less-good teachers do the same, but say, ‘Look! See my hand, pointing at the moon.’ Those teachers are more interested in students seeing *them* rather than the moon: they instruct, yes, but we are always aware that they are interested in showing students their cleverness first, and the moon second. When you use language like ‘Darcy is still an a**hole,’ you are drawing the reader’s attention to you, not to the text. This is not something to aspire to in teaching, and definitely not something to aspire to in papers. Always show us less hand, more moon; less [studentlastname], more Austen.”

from voxprincipalis


HOF: Limiting Topics Brings Knowledge to Life

by Dr Davis on December 13, 2014

Here’s why I and my composition-teaching colleagues do not let students write arguments about certain topics.

First, let’s remember that I’m talking about first-year students who are learning about argument–about logic, fallacies, good evidence, bad evidence, finding common ground with opponents, refutation, and so on–for the very first time in their lives. The three or four short essays that my students have already written for me are the most writing they have ever done in one semester and perhaps more writing than they did in all of high school. Nearly all of my students enter our community college underprepared for high school, much less first-year college work. Many of these students have never used a library and none of them has used a college library.

In the catalog, the title of the course is Composition I. But it could just as well be called “Basic Introduction to College through Writing.”

school_research computer martinI’ll begin with a banned topic that rarely has anything to do with religion: gun control. When I allowed students to write about gun control, those who chose this topic were almost without exception paranoid far-right survivalist/militia fanatics who see New World Order conspiracies everywhere, or the children of such people. It was a self-selecting group: those obsessed with the topic were those who chose to write about it. And to these students, the gun-control argument has two sides: people who love freedom, and people who hate America and want to destroy America and want this to become a land of mindless slaves. A person who wants any sort of gun regulations whatsoever belongs to the second group. A person who’d like to see 30- and 50-round detachable magazine made illegal isn’t merely incorrect; he is an enemy every bit as dangerous as any foreign terrorist.

And to those students, arguments that support regulation of firearms simply don’t exist. Any data used to support arguments for gun regulation are fake–simply made up–or come from some foreign dictatorship where the people are already mindless slaves. It’s not that my no-gun-restrictions students didn’t want to consider other points of view. It’s that they simply denied the legitimacy of those points of view, since the students already knew that such viewpoints are lies concocted by communists or fascists who hate America, and so on and so forth.

My gun-loving students simply couldn’t do real research or construct even part of a proper argument. I think the term is “epistemic closure.” There’s really not an argument to be made when the choices are Good and Absolute Evil, is there? It’s as pointless as explaining why one should prefer Mister Rogers to Hitler. The inevitable poor grade on the assignment merely proved that colleges are controlled by communists or fascists who hate America, and so on and so forth.

The same kind of thing happened when I and my colleagues let students write about abortion, same-sex marriage, or prayer in public schools. With those topics, the self-selecting group consisted of religious fanatics. Please note that I am not saying that all religious people are wild-eyed fire-breathing theocrats. But I live in a part of the country where we have lots and lots of fanatics and more than a few wild-eyed fire-breathing theocrats. Catch John Hagee’s or Rod Parsley’s act on television sometime. To many of my students, that’s what a real Christian looks like. Pope Francis? Not a Christian. Demonic, in fact. I’ve had to shut down such a diatribe this semester.

For the religious fanatics in Comp I, the argument over abortion has two sides: God’s and Satan’s. It ain’t complicated. They don’t write arguments. They write sermons. Other points of view simply do not exist. My students who wrote about abortion always repeated the usual claims: women who have abortions are more likely to get cancer; women who have abortions kill themselves; women who have abortions become sterile. Giving them evidence to the contrary–science-based evidence from good sources–accomplished nothing. The articles are lies; the data are fraudulent; it’s all the work of pagans or atheists who like to kill babies. There is no need to waste time considering the ideas of people who have already proved that they are demonically evil by having such ideas.

Some of our students have been taught to leave a room when ungodly or demonic talk begins. If, say, a beginning-of-class conversation about a science story in the news drifts into mention of evolution or the Big Bang, a student will quietly pack up his or her books and leave, because he or she has been trained to get out of a room when Satan starts talking. It has happened to me and most of my colleagues.

And as with abortion, so with same-sex marriage, prayer in public schools, and other topics with a religious component. The students who write about them will not, can not, consider ideas other than their own because they already know that those other ideas are quite literally lies from Hell. They don’t write arguments. They refuse to. They write bad sermons. And if they get bad grades, they know that the instructor is on Satan’s side.

Again, please note that I am not claiming that all Christians fit a stereotype or caricature. But I live where the stereotypes and caricatures originated. I live where it’s not hard to find ramshackle little churches–old single-wides, as often as not–on back roads, churches that fly the Confederate battle flag next to and sometimes above a cross, and where men go to worship service with their AR-15s slung over their shoulders.

So I proscribe some topics. I try to make students begin arguments and research papers not with an opinion, but with a question about an important topic about which they know little and about which they know that they know very little. Then they need to show me that they have learned to use the college library well enough to find sound evidence that steered them to a point of view on the topic, and that they have examined the evidence for other points of view, and that they can assemble the products of their research into a logical and coherent whole that meets the requirements of the assignment.

It’s easier to accomplish that by proscribing topics that begin and end with Us or Them, Jesus or Satan, Liberty or Slavery. If it’s a topic that sometimes leads to shouting and screaming, pushing and shoving, fisticuffs, or gun play, then maybe it’s a topic that first-year composition students will not handle well.

Then, once a student has constructed a reasonably good written argument, I can say, “See what you did here? This is what grown-up discussion looks like. This–this way of thinking–is how all of should approach everything we think and believe, because everybody believes at least a few things that just aren’t correct. What you did in this assignment is how we can make sure that the things we believe make sense.” And I repeat the old saw: If you never change your mind, what’s the point of having one?

And then, next semester or next year, my composition students can apply their new knowledge in other courses such as sociology and philosophy, and maybe even re-examine some of their own assumptions. My Comp I class, after all, is not the last one in which students will have to make arguments. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to tackle controversies in other courses. My goal is to help them take the very first step in learning how to tackle a controversial topic.

from eumaois


University Cannot Educate You

by Dr Davis on December 12, 2014

“You must realize that a university cannot educate you. You must do that for yourself, although a college or university is the place where it is likely that you can study most efficiently.” –Seville Chapman, in chapter 2 of How to Study Physics, 1955. Found online at:


Plagiarism sources

by Dr Davis on December 11, 2014

The first one I found referenced on the CHE fora is a flowchart of levels of plagiarism–though not all the academics agree it is accurate. I linked it because it is a place to start talking.

The second one is an online test for recognizing plagiarism from Indiana U.

Another plagiarism source–which I cannot watch because my flash is out of date–was recommended to me. It is at Northern Arizona U.


CFP: Multiliteracies in Underrepresented Populations

by Dr Davis on December 7, 2014

Multiliteracies in Underrepresented Populations
full name / name of organization:
Dr. Abigail Scheg and Dr. Mary-Lynn Chambers, Elizabeth City State University
contact email:
[email protected]

Call for Papers for an edited collection:
Developing and Understanding Multiliteracies in Underrepresented Populations
As new technology based communication skills are being developed, researched, and used for educative purposes, a greater understanding of these skills is necessary not just in our majority student populations, but in our minority populations as well. Arguably, the first population to experience a new literacy tool (and therefore, skill) is the population that has the financial and educational means to do so. Thus, our more privileged students are experiencing the benefits of developing multiliteracy in the classroom. However, what about the minority students? What about the online classroom? Are there challenges being faced, and what are some of the solutions being discovered?

Chambers’ (2014) research identifies an agency issue experienced by minority students who attempt to navigate their learning in a strictly text based, online environment. This challenge requires a pedagogical re-writing regarding technology based learning so that all students will benefit from a multi-modal approach in the face-to-face and online class.
Considering this perspective, the many voices of instructors who work with minority populations needs to be explored, heard, and shared. This edited collection calls for the unique perspectives of educators who work with underrepresented or minority populations in terms of multiliteracy skill development. Specifically, this call for papers is looking for educators to describe the context of their situation, their student population, and the unique challenges of building one or more literacy skills based on technology, when working with their students.

Please email inquiries or abstracts of approximately 250 words to Dr. Abigail Scheg (@ag_scheg) and Dr. Mary-Lynn Chambers to [email protected] by January 15, 2015. Dr. Abigail Scheg and Dr. Mary-Lynn Chambers are both Assistant Professors at Elizabeth City State University in the Department of Language, Literature, and Communication.

From UPenn


CFP: YA Lit and Comp

by Dr Davis on December 6, 2014

Original CFP from UPenn:

YA Literature and Composition
full name / name of organization:
Dr. Tamara Girardi and Dr. Abigail Scheg
contact email:
[email protected]
While adult book sales have been down for the past few years, sales of young adult titles have increased as much as 30% according to some reports. The turn of the millennium brought an explosion of YA sales with the most notable Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, and Divergent series. YA sections grew from a few shelves to prominent areas in libraries and major bookstores. In fact, a recent Pew Survey reported that 16-29 year-olds check out library books more than any other group.
Despite assumptions that kids don’t read, young adults entering college classrooms are reading recreationally more so than any generation before them. Additionally, many popular films and television shows are based on young adult novels and series. With the prevalence of contemporary young adult literature in their lives, it is logical to question how a connection can be made to their learning in academia.
This collection will explore such connections, specifically in the college composition classroom, although some references to literature and creative writing classrooms are also welcome. While the heart of the exploration involves the reading and writing of young adult literature, the ultimate goal should be to discuss how one or both might inform composition pedagogy.
Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
-Early young adult texts such as Maureen Daly’s Seventeenth Summer, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, and works by Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, and Robert Cormier and how these texts relate to contemporary YA literature.
-Why specific themes or tropes connect well with high school and college students.
-Contradictions between YA reader’s interests in dark issues such as addiction, suicide, terminal illness, sexuality, abuse and their parents and/or teachers anticipation that such issues are too serious for them.
-Variations in genres within the YA framework and how knowledge of genre differences might influence greater understanding and appreciation for non-traditional literary works.
-Comparison between new adult and young adult genres.
-Popularity of YA literature with adults.
-The cathartic experience of writing and reading about challenges faced during one of the most formative times in a student’s life.
-Composition assignments and pedagogy that feature YA literature in some way.
Please send inquiries or abstracts of approximately 250 words to [email protected] by July 1, 2014. Editors for this collection are: Dr. Tamara Girardi (@TamaraGirardi), Harrisburg Area Community College, and Dr. Abigail Scheg (@ag_scheg), Elizabeth City State University.

However, Dr. Scheg’s Twitter feed today reads:
YA lit and comp


Visual Form and Memory 4

by Dr Davis on November 29, 2014

steampunk_icon_for_Safari_by_yereverluvinuncleber-d4zhax0Vivian, Bradford and Anne Teresa Demo. “Introduction.” Rhetoric, Remembrance, and Visual Form. Eds. Anne Teresa Demo and Bradford Vivian. New York: Routledge, 2012. eBook.

“to animate rather than ‘fix’ the profound resonance of place and space, monuments and memorials, and media and mediums as dynamic sites of artistic, social, or political exchange in modern popular culture” (Vivian and Demo)

“physical locations and environments constitute deeply evocative loci of memory” (Vivian and Demo)

“material substrate of memory” (Vivian and Demo)

“inscribed on the ground and in the mind, erasing a prior landscape of cultural myth and memory before being partially written over by newly emerging identities” (Vivian and Demo)

“works elicit viewers’ personal awareness of history” (Vivian and Demo)

“exemplify how habits of seeing, remembering, and travelling materially intersect” (Vivian and Demo)

“anticipatory memory’ or ‘preemptive nostalgia’ based not on previous experience but on perceptions, expectations and desires gleaned through memoirs, travel guides, prints, photographs, and films prior to one’s visit to the actual sites” (Vivian and Demo)

“visual memory can ironically precede corporeal experience” (Vivian and Demo)

“how subjects which resist both visual representation and coherent communal recollection compel us to question the material form and rhetorical function of conventional monuments and memorials” (Vivian and Demo)

“vibrant nexus of innovative and potentially transformative artistic, social, and political practices” (Vivian and Demo)

“particular challenge that confronts memory artists as well as the viewing public: how to reconcile the charged space between two primary ‘forms’ of memory—the work’s inhabitation of an amorphous public space and viewers’ reinterpretation of its memorial symbolism” (Vivian and Demo)

“contestation between instrumental and cultural representations of collective memory” (Vivian and Demo)

“unusual media or mediums of memory and the rhetorically malleable aura they lend to objects of memory” (Vivian and Demo)

“essentially animate forms in the production of sight as memory” (Vivian and Demo)

“formation of artistic memory” (Vivian and Demo)

What I think about this introduction is that it offers a lot of good ideas of how to approach the cosplay and convention. I think that costumes are ‘unusual media of memory’ and they are also ‘cultural representations of collective memory.’ A cosplayer is ‘essentially [an] animate form’ that produces memory through sight.

Conventions are the places that ring with the animation of meanings–“dynamic sites” of social exchange in the making of popular culture meaning. For this reason they are the geography of memory.

I think the anticipatory memory can also be related to con goers, who may have heard about but have no previous experience with cons. When there is a disconnect between their expectations and their experiences, they do not acculturate or go from fans to part of the con community.



Visual Form and Memory 3

by Dr Davis on November 28, 2014

steampunk_icon_for_Safari_by_yereverluvinuncleber-d4zhax0Vivian, Bradford and Anne Teresa Demo. “Introduction.” Rhetoric, Remembrance, and Visual Form. Eds. Anne Teresa Demo and Bradford Vivian. New York: Routledge, 2012. eBook.

“inherently susceptible to distortion, such that they deprive us of sight and memory precisely in appearing to furnish them” (Vivian and Demo)

“acute sensitivity to this interplay of presence and absence, of constant conjunction and disjunction among visual and memorial forms” (Vivian and Demo)

“The notion that visual forms and forms of memory share the same ostensible substance is one of the most deeply engrained structures of feeling in late modernity” (Vivian and Demo)

“rhetorical form and function of the materiality that inheres between images and memory” (Vivian and Demo)

“memory is profoundly informed by visual media, through rhetorical dynamics: visual and memorial forms coalesce according to the ways in which practices of interpretation, argumentation, or communication assign shared meaning” (Vivian and Demo)

“the past is not preserved but is reconstructed on the basis of the present” (Halbwach quoted in Vivian and Demo)

“interpretive, argumentative, or communicative content of images as well as memories” (Vivian and Demo)

“rhetorical confluences of visual and memorial forms” (Vivian and Demo)

“how images may express seemingly permanent and transient impressions of the past” (Vivian and Demo)

“images may provide material sites of memory” (Vivian and Demo)

“The relevant rhetorical question is why material intersections among images and memory sometimes succeed and sometimes fail as persuasively wrought depictions—or sightings—of the past” (Vivian and Demo)