I just read Rob Jenkins piece, “Retention in the Trenches,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education,

I remember the first time I left (was forced out of?) school; the first time school failed to retain me.

I was disinterested in school. Like many newly-graduated-from-high-school teenagers, I was burnt out from barely passing my classes at my private, Jesuit, prep school. I purposely did poorly in my entrance exams so that I would get put in “easy” classes. I know… I was young.

I was left bored in my composition classes, and I was told, in so many words, that my writing was poor by my disinterested instructors. (Of course, now I realize what they must have been going through). My instructor, however, gave me no direction in how to improve my writing. I ended up barely passing my enc 1101. In 1102, I hated all the assignments, hated the group work, and hated every thing we were assigned to read. Again, I was bored and doing enough to get by. I did, however, attempt to put more effort in to my writing to pass the class with a higher grade. For my efforts, I was accused of cheating (nothing came of the accusation, except my resentment), and I received a point penalty for missing too many classes.

I did much more poorly in my other classes.

After failing a couple of classes and taking a semester off, I was ready to come back to school, but school did not care for my return. I remember talking to counselors, who led me to deans, who told me my poor record indicated to them that I was not ready for school. I pleaded my case: I was bored in class, didn’t see the point, hated the “pointless” classes, I had learned from my mistakes, and I wanted to return.

I ended up at the local community college. Again, counselors were quick to dismiss my interest and were unhelpful. Finally, when I declared myself as an English major and was sent to the head of the English department, did I finally connect to someone who listened to me and helped me pick classes. And more than just pick classes, he would register me for the class right in his office. That extra step helped immensely. I can’t say how many times–and how much time wasted–I would attempt to register for a class that was full and then have to find an alternative. With Dr. Blanco, if I couldn’t get into a class, he would recommend another one. He would tell me what the classes would cover so that I could decide if it interested me. I owe that man so much.

The teachers at that school–once I finally started taking classes in my major–were amazing, and they and my experience, bring me to Jenkins piece. He states:

Obviously, we haven’t yet discovered the magic formula, or else we wouldn’t still be talking about this problem, much less potentially losing money because of it. 

He does give excellent advice.

Be a teacher, not a gatekeeper.”

As professors, sometimes, and I have this problem, we think our job is to let students lacking in ability know that they might not make it in college. I was told repeatedly by a girlfriend’s mother, by managers, and by my own high school counselor, that maybe college was not for me. As I’ve mentioned, I was told I could not get past the gate by writing instructors, and here I am, ABD, about to get my Ph.D.. I think Jenkins is correct in saying that students, especially at risk or academically under-prepared students, are “much more likely to stick it out if they see their professors as partners in the learning process.” I see my job as helping students realize that with hard work and effort they can learn the material and pass their classes. 

Next, Jenkins states that we should “be flexible” and reminds us “But don’t be a pushover”

Life happens, so we should help students through those moments, but we can’t let students walk all over us.

The next step is the hardest one for me, (and I don’t know why): Be accessible — and approachable.”

Students need to know that they can come talk to us. If they have a problem, they need to tell us so that we can be flexible without being a pushover. As Jenkins reminds us “For many students, professors represent imposing and sometimes intimidating figures.” I have had vastly wonderful literature classes, where my students come talk to me during office hours, chat with me before and after class about the movie, t.v. show, or other book they read that reminds them about something we covered in class. One class started a book club and asked me to be the faculty advisor. 

In my composition classes, however, I am arrogant and mean. I try to be open. I send out constant announcements reminding my students of office hours, of e-mailing me, of my openness to read pre-drafts before they turn anything in for a grade. I try to be tough so that students don’t think I’m a push over, but I am flexible when things come up. Sometimes I wonder if my accessibility isn’t influenced by my appearance as a 6’2 tall man. I know my sarcasm gets me in trouble.

I am working on this accessibility part, and have seen improvements from when I first started–improvements that have come at realizing precisely that I am an ally not a gatekeeper.

“Make Material Relevant”

I have armed myself with the following articles that show that liberal arts majors (specifically in humanities and social sciences) earn more than professional and pre-professional majors by mid-career:

Here

Here

Here

Here

Here

Here

Of course, the importance of clear communication, proper writing (in e-mails, cover letters, job inquiries, resumes, etc.) cannot be stressed enough. In a competitive market, the resume without typos wins.

Finally, Take some personal responsibility”

I think I should, as Jenkins suggest, step outside the comfort zone. As he puts it:

You can’t force students to do something they absolutely don’t want to do. And yet, over the last few years, I’ve begun to step outside my comfort zone and reach out to students who have multiple absences, who haven’t turned in an assignment, or who clearly seem distracted in class (and not just by their cell phones)” 

This article makes me realize the student focused approach I would like to take at a community college or liberal arts college. A place where students come first.

Barthes answers his own question after asking who speaks in Balzac’s novel: the reader can never know because, “…writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin” (1322). If writing is the destruction of origin, then it means that the Author must be dead since the Author is the origin of the text. Barthes indicates this by replacing the idea of an Author (capitol A) with the “modern scriptor” (1324).

Barthes’s idea echoes Lacan in the way that both perceive language giving subjectivity; language isn’t just a tool that the Author uses to communicate; rather, before the Author can use language, it is determining the way He thinks (there is no consciousness outside of language). Language is already imbued with structures, angles, values, priorities, etc.. The idea of a capitol A Author conveying inherent meaning is impossible because (for Lacan, there is no Subject that does not have lack, precisely because of language) language is, as Saussure elucidated, arbitrary. Language only means by deferral (and to jump ahead to Derrida by Differance: both deferral and difference).

Barthes traces the idea of an Author-God back to the reformation; therefore, the very idea of an Author is a historical-cultural construct. This construct posits the Author as the owner of his/her work as if she/he created the language with which the work was created. Barthes points out how this view limits a text, supplying the text a final signified (1325). This view makes criticism a game of simply finding the writer in the work.

The death of the Author opens up reading and the complicity of language. A text is not composed of a Meaning that can be traced back to an Author-God; this would imply that Meaning is outside of language. Language produces meanings rather than reflects language. Therefore, the Author dies, and the Meaning the Author “intended” goes with him/her, and meaning(s) are found in the reader: “A text’s unity lies not in tis origin but its destination” (1325). I like to think of this as the death of Capitol T Truth Meaning for the birth of little t truth meaning.


I don’t have much to say other than I loved reading this selection from the new Norton Anthology. G and G perform what they preach in “Introduction: Rhizome” from A Thousand Plateaus, a book I feel I must read now.

The challenge the conventional ideas of ideas, of thinking, of books and philosophy: “We will never ask what a book means, as signified and signifier; we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with…” (1455). This is the direction I see myself going towards more and more; that is, not looking for meanins but rather trying to understand how things mean. How does a book create meaning? How does society impose its meanings?

G and G challenge the notion of the book in the Western tradition. The book is like a root (the image of logos as a root)– and to go off on an aside here for a minute– I wonder (and I’m sure this is out there somewhere) what G and G would think of Heidegger’s conception of philosophy since he wanted to rethink philosophy not from the tree of logos or the roots but from the very ground from which the logos tree springs. In that sense, I’m sure the would like how Heidegger was challenging accepted modes of thought in philosophy; although, I’m sure they would have qualms with how he reordered philosophy and still found a center from which to spring. However, Heidegger is concerned with Be-coming– Dasien is, after all, the movement of Be-ing. In that sense, I believe that Heidegger can be seen as rhizomic writing. Yet again, though, G and G don’t want a beginning; they want “…neither beginning nor end, but always a middle…” (1458).

Mostly, I like their prose; the way they play with language and with the structure of logical thought: “We are writing this book as a rhizome. It is composed of plateaus. We have given it a circular form, but only for laughs” (1459).

This “logic” outlined in G and G, I believe can be seen in the works of early Palahiuk, in Joyce, in Danielewski, and with philosophers that perform in their text, such as Derrida or Ciouxous.

It seems the depiction of class in Hurston’s novel is more complicated than merely being a depiction of status. There is rather an intersection of class and status linked to race and color, which is seen in the exchanges that Janie has with Mrs. Turner. For Mrs. Turner, it seems that class is decidedly linked with race as the narrator tells us that Mrs. Turner can “forgive” Janie for wearing overalls “like the other women who worked in the field” because of Janie’s “coffee and cream complexion and her luxurious hair” (140). Mrs. Turner even goes on to say that “…dey outghta make us uh class tuh ourselves,” referring to light-skinned blacks (142).

Of course though, everything that Mrs. Turner says is refuted by what happens earlier in the novel. Even if whites were to make light-skinned blacks a “class tuh [them]selves,” would it matter? The people of Eatonville create a social hierarchy even away from a controlling white hegemony.

The people of Eatonville consider Janie to be high class, and this is seen at the very beginning of the novel when Janie walks back into town and the townfolks are gossiping about her: “–why she don’t stay in her class?–” (2). While the town’s view of Janie as being of a higher class has slightly to do with her appearance, it is her money that makes her high class, which is seen in Janie’s gold spittoon: “It was bad enough for white people, but when one of your own color could be so different it put you on a wonder” (48). This is hints at the contrast between Gatsby and Janie: while Gatsby, no matter how much money, could never be part of the upper echelon, Janie and Jody could buy their social status in Eatonville, just as earlier Killicks is considered someone of higher social standing because he owns land.

Jody, who was just like the people in Eatonville except for having money and because of money having power, considers the townsfolk “trashy people” (54), and doesn’t want Janie to interact with them. Although this attitude arises from both class and patriarchy, as Jody believes that a woman’s place is in the home. Jody conveys this view a number of times. He uses not only class but his position as the bread-winning-man to control Janie and discourage her from not getting involved in what the “trashy people” do (for example when Jody and the town bury the mule 60).

Class is wielded throughout the novel against Janie as a way for her to get out of her position as a woman (her grandmother’s way of living: marrying out of poverty). It is only through money, marrying into money, that she can be classy, and she can easily compromise her class by making “mistakes.” Pheoby warns Janie that running around with Tea Cakes is somehow compromising her class: “He don’t know you’se useter uh more high time crowd than dat, You always did class off” (112).

I think this raises an interesting question about what “class” means. If someone has class, can he/she lose that class? Tom Buchannan is considered by society as someone of high class even though he is a womanizer and brute while someone like Tea Cakes can never be considered of a high class even if he buys into it, or can he? JOdy is able to buy his way into the upper crust in Eatonville, but is this because Eatonville is a new town just for blacks? How then is class defined? It almost seems to be something one is born with (the nature vs. nurture exchange between the men on the porch).

For instance, Janie is considered by everyone to have some air of class about her even though she enjoys doing things that are not considered fit for her station, such as gossiping and joking on the porch with the men. This is further seen when Tea Cakes tells Janie that he didn’t invite her to the party he threw with her money because he was afraid she “…might get all mad and quit” him for associating with the non “muckty mucks” people. (124).

In the end, Janie is back in Eatonville with everyone gossiping about her, and it doesn’t matter to Janie. I htink this illustrates Janie’s realization that class is just a social construct, so it doesn’t matter if the townsfolk gossip about her and about what happened.

The idea of writing about race in The Great Gatsby is interesting. I have read this novel a few times now and have never thought of it in terms of race, but race is always present, in any novel.

First, though, I needed to find out what “race” means. Is it culture (or just linked with culture)? Is it the psychical attributes? As I learned from PBS,org, “…humans have not been around long enough…to evolve into separate subspecies or races. Despite surface differences, we are among the most similar of all species”– and despite what Tom’s “scientific” book “The Rise of the Colored Empires” might say, when we talk about race then, we mean a, “…classifications of humans into populations or groups based on various factors, such as their culture, language, social practice or heritable characteristics.” I point this out because the issue of race has alway fascinated and confused me, and I think that is what draws me to postmodern theory that shows how these terms are socially constructed and not just naturally inherent. With this in mind, I think that race can be looked at in The Great Gatsby in the same manner it can be looked at in Hughes’s poetry: Hughes addresses race… well, how? Is it that Hughes is black? or is it because Hughes writes about Harlem? or both?

I think it is both. Hughes’s race comes out when he writes about Harlem, jazz, blues, bee bop, and the culture that informs him, as a black man in Harlem–That is to say, Hughes writes about his ‘culture, language [and] social practices.’

Fitzgerald, as some people have pointed out, speaks about race by not speaking of it (but he does speak about the “white race”), and in doing so, it makes “white” the default, normalizing race. However much Fitzgerald does not directly invoke race, race is implied when Nick talks about his Ivy League days, when Gatsby says he went to Oxford because it is well known that there were no “colored” people at these ivy league schools at this time, we might also wondered if there were any colored people at Gatsby’s parties, and we can infer, with people like Tom going to these parties, that the only colored people there were walking around with silver trays with drinks on them for guest; And while Nick has a Finnish woman as a servant (and why is her race invoked?), we never learn the race of the “eight servants, including an extra gardner” that prepare Gatsby’s mansion for the party. Why does Fitzgerald feel it important to name the race of Nick’s maid but not the eight servants?

I believe the novel addresses race more in these subtle moments than in the obvious ones, such as Myrtle’s aside about the “shiftlessness of the lower orders”, the “These people” (36), which is interested that “shiftless” is used to describe “these people” when it is the rich Tom, Daisy, and Myrtle who wander around shiftlessly and amorally.

Another subtle moment of race in the novel is the extravagant buffet of the party: “…hors d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold” (44). Food is, I believe, one of the biggest signifiers of race. If this party were given by my family, there would be a whole roasted pig, congri, white rice and black beans; if this were a party in Harlem, the food would be bar b q, pigs’ feets, watermelon– the point of this (reading it again what almost feels like racist comments) is that Fitzgerald takes the time to write about the actual food that is displayed, which is intricately linked to race and class. Just as the location is linked with race; just as having Daisy come over for tea and lemon cake (Gatsby’s big plan to meet her again) is linked with race because this activity is itself a very “white.”

These moments are peppered through out the novel. In telling the reader that Klipspringer plays rag time jazz, Fitzgerald is making a comment about race because this is not the jazz that Hughes is writing about in his poems. In other examples, Fitzgerald mentions a person’s race (the Greek who sees Myrtle struck by Daisy, for instance), and then other times he doesn’t. While there are plenty of moments that Fitzgerald ignores race, there are also plenty of subtle moments he does.

After hearing some of my colleagues complain about poor annotated bibliographies, I decided I would make one of our class meetings a conference day in order to see how my class was fairing. I set up times to meet everyone on Friday, Monday, and Tuesday, but then I realized that I had a graduate student meeting on Friday…

Then I realized that I had a DMV appointment on Monday…

I ended up sending out a mass e-mailing letting my students know that I was not going to be able to meet with them, but I told them that they could, if they wanted, e-mail me rough drafts and that we would do conferences through e-mail. I received a handful of rough drafts and another handful of students came to my office hours, and it seems there has been a bit of confusion.

I would like to think, after reading the last student who walked out of here with an amazing rough drafts, that the problem does not lay with me but with my student’s slackness and resistance to read something more than once. The summaries have highlighted how little the students comprehend, but this is a writing class, so I am trying, as best I can, to not worry so much about the reading comprehension (HOW COULD I NOT WORRY?) and instead focus on the writing, which isn’t stellar.

I am constantly in awe of teachers that seem to have it all together. I never feel like I have anything together. And after spending an entire class going over summary and paraphrase, these summaries have been awful. I just don’t know what it is (how it is) i am supposed to teach. I think maybe I should be more animated, but there has got to be a way for me to teach, in my own morose, sarcastic, dark humor style, and still reach students.

I struggle to find my teaching persona….

What really worries me is how awful the essays are going to be of the students who didn’t bother contacting me about the rough drafts. I think I am going to have to get meaner before I can become nicer. I’ll see how it goes.

On Thursday we start the expository essay, which will be turned in on Tuesday, and then we are starting a new project (historiography of ads) on Tuesday. I think I am going to start each class and end each class with 5 to 15 minutes of writing from now on. This will be my mini reading quiz and a way to get the students to think about the essays they are about to write. I got to come up with some relevant writing prompts.

I have been starting class by asking the students if they have any questions or concerns that need to be addressed. So far, there hasn’t been much. I wanted to show the students that they evaluate things everyday, so I started class off by having them free-write about their favorite movie, song, or book. I told them that they had to explain WHY it is this thing was their favorite. After about 5 minutes, I had the students write for 5 minutes about the thing they hate and why. Once that was over, I told them to exchange papers and to evaluate the claims made.

I told them that liking a song because the singer was good looking was not a valid reason, so that it was their job to look out for this kind of faulty reasoning. I tried to lead this into a discussion, but no one was talking. It was pretty awful actually. I think this will work if it is tweaked, so I am going to have to contemplate a way to inspire more class engagement.

My first class does a little better with discussion; the students in that class seem to be a little more on the ball and little more self motivated (which reminds me, I should outline for both the classes what should go in the summary).

Afterwards, I put on the projector two news articles dealing with Obama’s speech about the end of the war in Iraq. One was from Fox news the other was from The New York Times, so both had very subtle ideological language. My first class (which, I know, I just said seems to be more on the ball, got it wrong). I pointed out (to both classes) the little turn of phrases and wording, style, quotes used to show the class how these things can give you insight to a writer’s angle of vision. I think they got it. I hope they got it.

I then briefly discussed MLA formatting, reviewed, again, what this annotated bibliography consists of, and showed them some web-page, like easybib.com. I had an issue where some of the gourps couldn’t find the article they were assigned, so I had to reassign some of the articles. (I need to read these articles).

This left about 15 minutes in one class, 20 minutes in another, for group work. I walked around to the different groups and listened in to what was going on asking if anyone needed help. Over all not a bad class.

My own classes are suffering, and I realized that I was behind in my readings– especially when 20 minutes before class, as I was going to get coffee, I ran into a classmate reading an article. When I asked her what she was reading, she told me it was for class. Well, I had enough time to print up the article but couldn’t read it, which didn’t matter because we didn’t even really discuss it. Then in class, I managed to BS my way through class eventhough, I only read about half of the book.

I’m off to read read read…