After Discussion Lectures
- "Examsmanship and the Liberal Arts"
- "How We Listen"
- "Thinking as a Hobby"
- "Shooting an Elephant"
- "Once More to the Lake"
- "Why Colleges"
- "Three Heads Are Better Than One"
- "In Harness: the MaleCondition"
- "Motherhood: Who Needs It?"
- "Black Men and Public Spaces"
- "College Pressures"
- "A Case for Torture"
- "The Case for Animal Rights"
- "We Do Abortions Here: a Nurse's Story"
- "The Terrifying Normalicy of AIDS"
- "Good Readers and Good Writers"
- "In Search of a Room of One's Own"
"Examsmanship and the Liberal Arts"
This essay is probably the most difficult you will read in our Freshman Composition class. Why is that? Consider the audience for this essay: Perry did not write for your peers; he wrote for college professors, and not just teachers from any college, but Harvard profs. What are your preconceptions of Harvard professors? They are at the top of their fields, arent they? Are they likely to take advice from a teacher from another institution, especially when that teacher is basically telling them that not only are they not grading essays correctly, but that this mistake reveals that they do not really understand what "knowledge" is? So, if Perry is going to be accepted as an authority to those Harvard profs, what does he have to do? Well, first he will probably have to convince them that he is as smart or smarter than they are, that they have to work to understand his advanced thought. In this light, how effective do you think Perrys title is? What does it actually mean? "Examsmanship and the Liberal Arts" refers to testing in liberal arts classes, such as humanities, anthropology, philosophy, and English. How are tests different in these kinds of classes from, say, mathematics, physics, or biology? You are more likely to have to write essays for liberal arts classes and answer objective questions about terms or facts in the sciences. The science teacher checks to see if you have the facts correct, if you understand the terminology, if you know how to work the mathematical problem. In the liberal arts, however, on an essay test, the instructor has to evaluate how well you understand the issues of the class by how well you discuss them and support your contentions in your essay. It is much easier for the science teacher to identify the content material or facts as knowledge than it is for the liberal arts teacher to tell whether the student essayist understands the important aspects of "knowledge" through essays. Therefore, the second part of Perrys title--"A Study in Educational Epistemology"--connects his idea of how liberal arts teachers grade essays to what he will define for us as "the true nature of knowledge." What is epistemology? If you looked it up in the dictionary, you found that it refers to the nature of and/or the limits of knowledge. What would educational epistemology be then? The nature of knowledge in an educational setting? So, when we break down Perrys title, keeping in mind his intended audience, we realize that it is particularly appropriate and exactly what his essay will be about. Although readers like you and me might be put off (at first) by this title and choose not to read the essay (unless it is assigned in a class like this one), once we dissect it, we are prepared for the essay itself.
Perry uses two important short narratives in his essay. The first one begins his essay. What is the effect of the first sentence? of the first paragraph? How many of you can associate with this situation, if not personally, then perhaps you know or knew someone you thought was a good bullster? Is there some humor in the first paragraph? Arent you surprised to hear that a professor thought bull was "the right kind of nonsense"? So, from the very beginning, Perry is surprising us by taking an unconventional view of "bull." This is one of the characteristics of an excellent essay: it takes a new approach to a subject. Perry then connects his ideas of bull to an interpretation of what knowledge is. Here is another characteristic of an excellent essay: it deals with a profound topic, one with far-reaching consequences. Perry has to deal with the sticky questions of ethics raised by the idea of bull and to suggest that our study of knowledge should be objective and not influenced by questions of morality. Perrys essay is especially long, so he doesnt actually state his topic clearly until the end of his short introductory narrative, but he does make it clear at the end of that section: he will discuss "the true nature of bull and its relation to knowledge." This is a complex issue, but we know that we will be discussing bulling, defining knowledge, and figuring out what part ethics play in exam writing or grading. Again, because of the complexity of his topic, if he can tie up all three issues and present an interesting, new perspective on the profound issue of how knowledge is judged in college essays, he has several characteristics of an excellent essay. And this first narrative provides another good characteristic: an interesting introductory element that allows the reader to associate with the topic, if not personally, then hypothetically.
The second narrative Perry provides is the story of Metzger. To prove how effective this narrative is, I often ask classes as the first question of our discussion on this essay, what the essay is about. Over half of the class responds something like this: "It is about this guy who takes a test in his friends class and who bulls his way through the essay part and gets an A. Then he gets in trouble." If you analyze what portion of Perrys overall essay he spends on the Metzger story, you will see that it consists of less than 1/5. Yet this is the part of the essay that students/readers will remember the best. This should show you another aspect of an excellent essay: it finds a way to make the subject matter interesting and memorable. This story is particularly appropriate. Read again the example of Metzgers bull: "At the same time . . . these observations must be understood within the context of their generation by a person only partly freed from his embeddedness in the culture he is observing, and limited in his capacity to transcend those particular tendencies and biases which he has himself developed as a personality in his interaction with his culture since his birth." Is this true? Yes. Is it bull? Yes, almost pure bull "uncontaminated by any facts" (as Perry said earlier). This tells us that bull can be true and yet can still not constitute "knowledge."
To understand this distinction between truth and knowledge, we should also consider Perrys example of pure cow, a pure fact without any conclusion drawn from that fact. He dissects the "fact" that "Columbus discovered America in 1492" by looking at the frames of reference in which this fact is true: in the Chinese calendar, in the Jewish calendar, the year 1492 would be incorrect; only in the Christian calendar is this part of the fact correct. He presents a similar argument for whether Columbus was the first to sail to the New World and whether he really "discovered" America or merely reported the fact back to the European community. So this "fact" is true only from the limited perspective of the European community. Knowledge about Columbus discovery must include an awareness of those limitations and frames of reference. Once we understand this, it is easier to see the limits of Metzgers bull which really only discusses the limitations and frames of reference which would affect the conclusions or generalizations that any anthropologist would make about his own culture, but he doesnt tell us what those specific conclusions would be and more importantly, he doesnt supply us with any proof of such conclusions. So it is easy to see why Perry believe neither "cow" nor "bull" by itself constitutes knowledge and why he wants his audience, those Harvard professors, to stop grading "cow" with a "C" (because the student obviously put in lots of hard work to memorize all those facts) and to stop grading "bull" with an "F" (he calls it an "E") if they detect that it is bull and with an "A" if it is not detected, based solely on the question of ethics. He argues that knowledge is not connected to ethics and essays should be graded on their content not on a perceived intent on the part of the writer to deceive the instructor. He wants professors to give both "cow" and "bull" an "F" because neither alone constitutes knowledge.
His argument that the "F" for bull is more encouraging than the "F" for cow is part of his originality in changing around our perspective about bull. This ties back in with his first short narrative at the beginning of the essay. He claims that the person who provides nothing but cow has taken the time to study and still cannot draw the obvious conclusions, recognize the contexts, frames of reference or points of observation on which these facts can be considered both true and real knowledge. Whereas the student who bulls is trying to understand the contexts, frames of reference or points of observations which would affect the truth of his conclusions, but has not taken the time to study and gather the facts or data which would support those conclusions. He believes there is more hope for the bulling students because one can be taught to do research and provide data, but it is harder, perhaps impossible, to teach someone to draw conclusions and if the cowing student continues to trust completely in "facts," he will never be able to understand mans real relation to knowledge.
Perry does not leave us knowing only what doesnt work without any ideas about what is necessary for "true knowledge." Since he uses the metaphor of marriage to get the bull and cow together, I like to create my own joke and call the resulting writing "calves," the product of the union between bull and cow. At the end of his essay, he emphasizes the necessity for the particular facts and data (the cow) to be logically and integrally connected to the conclusions, the relevancies (the bull). We can see that his cow (the Metzger story, the Columbus example) are illustrative of his generalizations about knowledge, bull and cow, and ethics.
Although this is a very complex article, Perry does many things very well, things which would be useful for a composition student to take note of and to try to emulate. He begins with an interesting and pertinent narrative; in it he uses humor, he introduces a profound topic which is very relevant to his intended audience and to us, and he takes a new perspective (in other words, he says, in effect, "You think you know what knowledge is and are grading it accurately, but Im going to correct your ideas.") He clearly defines both the nouns "cow" and "bull" and explains how ethics enters the picture when we put these ideas into practice, thus defining as well the verbs of "to cow" and "to bull." He clearly tells us at the end what actions he wants us to take and why. These are all good reasons why I might assign this essay to a class. Can you think of any other reasons I would want you to read and understand this essay? I may use the terms "bull" and "cow" in defining one or more of your paragraphs in an essay. If I write "bull" next to one of your paragraphs, I dont want you to think I am swearing at you: I am merely letting you know that I recognize the limitation of this paragraph and am encouraging you to provide the relevant "cow" in order to have a good paragraph.
On a grander scale, I would like to encourage you to evaluate all your classes, all learning you do in your life, whether in school, at work, or on your own. How does what you are learning constitute "knowledge"? Are you being asked to memorize "facts" only? If you do not think this represents the true nature of knowledge, how can you make sure you are also continuing to draw conclusions from the facts you learn, the data you collect? If pure bull is rewarded, how can you make sure you test those conclusions against experience, against other data? Once you are consciously aware of what you are supposed to learn and why it is important, how it constitutes knowledge that you will need to have in your real life, the learning becomes easier and you retain that knowledge longer.
Type your name here when you have read the above After Discussion Lecture to get the points for that activity.
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"How We Listen"
Aaron Copland is the modern composer of "Fanfare for the Common Man," an atonal symphony which did not at first gain acceptance by the classical music lovers because of its unusual harmonies. So Coplands desire to teach his audience how to listen may in part come from wanting to produce an audience which could appreciate his own music by understanding on the technical level how he was attempting to be innovative. His audience is obviously classical music lovers, those who will understand the difference between Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. This explains his use of examples taken exclusively from classical music. Of course, this poses a problem for audiences not familiar with classical music.
Copland tells us how he will organize his essay right at the beginning but saves his point, his thesis for the next to last paragraph. He is creative in coming up with his own terms to explain the three different levels of listening: the sensuous, the expressive, and the sheerly musical level. He gives several examples to explain the expressive level which is helpful because he is discussing music with no words and meaning must come from the emotions the music evokes. He includes perhaps too many examples. His explanation of the technical level is comprehensible to any musician who can read music or play because he talks about the components of music: its rhythm, pace, harmonies or disharmonies, tone color, techniques of playing.
The analogy of the three levels in the theater not only help his audience to understand the three levels, but also suggests that other, similar analogies could be made. Of course, I like to lead students into understanding the analogy to reading and writing essays. We will use these terms (sensuous, expressive, and technical levels) in both analyzing the professional essays and the other students essays we read, and in writing essays as well. I will expect students to be able to differentiate the different levels and to get down to the technical level to explain the sensuous and expressive levels.
The thesis is explained at the end. Copland wants students to listen on all levels at once and, more than that, to understand the music the way the composer does as he writes it. He talks about being both "inside and outside" the music at the same time, about taking both an objective and subjective view of the creation. This will be important in two ways: as a student writes his own essays, he must understand how his reader will react to his arguments, and as an evaluator of an other students essay, he must be able to tell the papers writer what was done well or poorly on the technical level which confused or clarified the essay on the expressive level or which created the reaction of liking the essay on the sensuous level. This will help each student become aware that essays should be evaluated not only on the content level--what the essay says--but also on how the author says what he says--on how the form enhances the content matter. A truly excellent writer (an "A" writer) will be able to do this on other students papers and on her own.
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"Thinking as a Hobby"
Golding, the author of Lord of the Flies, was very interested in the existential idea that each person must create his own moral universe. His semi-autobiographical essay gives us some idea how he came up with his own moral, logical, coherent system for living. What may surprise us as readers of the novel is the humor he includes in his descriptions of the teachers he had in his impressionable years. Another particularly creative and original technique he uses is the symbolism and arrangement of the statues of The Thinker, Venus, and the leopard. His overall purpose is to explain his three kinds of thinking: 3rd Grade, 2nd Grade, and 1st Grade thinking, with 1st Grade being the highest kind of thinking, the one for which we should all strive. However his overall structure is not that of analysis, as was Coplands "How We Listen." He uses a chronological order suggesting by this that we develop our levels of thinking in a particular order.
He says we all begin at 3rd Grade thinking, mimicking what our parents, our institutions, or our peers advocate. He calls this kind of thinking just acting on feelings, prejudices, and following like sheep whoever leads. Perhaps it is significant that this kind of thinking seems to be fostered by the education institution. But it is also reinforced by religion, our own form of government, our legal, financial, and social systems. He then suggests that 2nd Grade thinking comes about when we begin to challenge accepted thought by finding the flaws in the logic, but looking for contradictions or exceptions to those beliefs. At this point he uses humor again to suggest that 2nd Grade thinkers are not very popular. Finally he discusses 1st Grade thinking which is superior to the other two grades because it contains ideas that have been tested on our own experiences or with other data and which has been reached after trying to resolve all the contradictions found at the 2nd Grade level. Sometimes these 1st Grade ideas are completely different from the original beliefs held by the multitude and sometimes they are the same because we have not been able to come up with a better solution for Big Business, Marriage, or Central Government.
At the end of the article, he challenge us each to come up with our own logical, coherent, moral system for living by being Grade 1 thinkers. This is, of course, a monumental task, one which should and probably will take us a lifetime. The value of beginning this work in English 100 is that the essays you write will contain ideas rather than what Golding calls opinions (which are the unchallenged beliefs of parents, friends, or social class, the feelings or prejudices we were raised with.) But more importantly for this class, making you aware of the challenge of developing your own logical, coherent, moral system for living should make you more aware of the statements you make which are just regurgitating your peers or parents and force you to find your own beliefs and rationales for accepting those beliefs.
I have never resolved the question of why Golding includes reference to his meeting with Einstein. If anyone in the class has any ideas, I would appreciate hearing your arguments on this topic. Obviously we accept Einstein as a Grade 1 thinker, even when he sounds like a Grade 3 thinker by just agreeing with the persona that indeed these are fish. Perhaps the point is more connected to the question of communication. Do we need to be able to communicate our Grade 1 thinking before it can be validated as ideas not opinions? Or is this something we can decide on ourselves in our own personal logical, coherent, moral system for living. Perhaps my view is that I should communicate my ideas to you, perhaps even try to persuade you to belief the same way, but your idea is that you will keep your beliefs to yourself and allow everyone else the freedom to come up with his/her own views.
I think of more interest are the statues. Students in my classes like to discuss how these statues should be arranged and why. I believe the statues represent thought or intellect (The Thinker), feeling or aesthetic appreciation (Venus), and instinct (the leopard). I would arrange them in a circle facing each other because they should all work together in a centered person. But I also believe there are still mists between them so that sometimes, the connection between the leopard and the Thinker are more clear and sometime there is less fog clouding the connection between the Thinker and Venus. How would you arrange them and why? What would this say about your own logical, coherent, moral system for living?
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"Shooting an Elephant"
This is an excellent example of a narrative essay. Since your first writing assignment is a narrative, there is much you can learn from this story. The story begins with humor which makes us want to read on. Dont we think it is rather strange that the persona is important only because he was hated? Already we sense a unique approach, which is one of our criteria for an excellent essay. After he gives us a sense of the place he is living in, through a discussion of the way the Burmese people, even the priests, treat the British, and a reflection of some of the horrors of the British occupation in the stinking lock-ups and scarred backs of the political prisoners, he informs us that he will tell us the "true nature of imperialism." This also suggests an original approach, a unique idea about a topic which we believe already that we understand. It also makes the story of one person shooting one elephant into something more symbolic and important if it will explains why imperialism is wrong.
Once the scene is set and we are prepared for what we will learn from this story, the tale begins. The point of view of the story is always with the persona and he tells it to us as he experienced it. So we see the elephant in different ways based on how the persona sees it during the course of the events. Tracing the views of the elephant becomes important if we are to understand first, why the persona shoots the elephant after all and second, why he does not want to. We see the elephant first as a nuisance, overturning rubbish vans and killing a cow, but not as a threat yet. In fact, Orwell presents all the damage the elephant does at first in a humorous light, i.e. "turning over a rubbish van and inflicting violences upon it." Only when there is a report that the elephant has killed a man, is the potential danger of the situation clear. It is important that the persona actually sees the dead coolie and that his honest response is that the coolie looks stupid. Later when the elephant seems to be past its attack of "must" and is eating calmly, the persona will remember the face of the dead coolie and not risk advancing across the mud to scare the elephant away or to test whether it is still dangerous because he might end up looking just as foolish as the dead coolie. The actual killing of the elephant is very vividly described, though the events probably took fewer than a hour to occur. Most especially the actual shots fired into the elephant and the effect those shots have on the elephant arouse our sympathies for the elephant. Our last view of the elephant is how helpless this formerly dangerous animal is; the elephant is powerless even to die. As you write your own narratives, I will expect you to provide vivid description especially of the climax, the most important event, of your story.
Orwell does provide a clear thesis statement, but it is not where we might expect to find it in most essays. It is not at the end of the story, but hidden in the middle of the middle paragraph. He talks about how "when the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom he destroys."This is a very clever approach to convincing the British that it is time to give up the Commonwealth and let countries govern themselves because Imperialism is bad. The original arguments about imperialism, that political prisoners are abused because they dared to suggest that the British should not be in power can be countered with the traditional justifications for imperialism, the improved roads and hospitals provided by the invading army. Orwell has come up with a way that imperialism is bad for the British, not for the Burmese, and this may be much more effective in getting the British to be willing to turn conquored countries back over to the natives. We can tell that the British are the audience for this story clearly by the use of the term "crucified" that the persona used to describe the dead coolies position. This term has a very strong connotative meaning to Christians which would be lost on the Buddhists of Burma. So his thesis or purpose is a creative, insightful, new argument about an important topic. Of course, for your own papers, I will expect a clearly stated thesis in the last paragraph of your story. When you are a published writer, you can imply the thesis or hide it in the middle of the essay, but for now I expect it to be succinctly and explicitly stated.
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"Once More to the Lake"
What is this story about? Can you find a clear thesis statement? This essay does not provide a stated thesis, though one is clearly implied. From your discussion, you may have come to many conclusions based on information that is in the story but which are inferences on your part. This is an advanced level of thinking, to be able to draw conclusions from a narrative which are not explicitly stated. When you are a proven writer, you will probably write narratives more like E. B. Whites that like the narrative you will write for our class, implying your purposes strongly but not putting them in writing. For this class, of course, you will have to be able to explicitly state your thesis. So it would be good practice for you to learn to state an understood thesis like the one from this essay.
So where should we begin in this essay? Usually authors put important points at the very end of the essay as this is the most emphatic position. When you read the story, you were probably put off by the last sentence, the last word of which is "death." Young people, actually all people, dont really want to think about death. If we ignore it, perhaps it will go away. But it does not. And we cannot undo the effect of that last sentence on our interpretation of the entire story. It probably made you depressed, confused you at first, and then made you rethink what the overall essay is all about. Most students first impression of the story while in the midst of reading it is that it is a nostalgic tale about one mans memories of his own visits to the lake with his father which are stirred up by his visit to bring his own son to that same lake. Because of the last sentence, we begin looking around for someone who might have died to make our persona (the "I" in the story) think about death. And most students notice that the original father (who would be the grandfather now) is not at the lake, though it was said that he goes every August. The simple inference is that the personas father is dead, probably died within the last year, so that the persona wanted to come back to the lake rather than going deepsea fishing with his son as was his custom, perhaps to come to terms with the death of his own father.
He hasnt been to the lake in a while and gets confused because he associates with his own son as the son steals off to canoe out onto the lake or gets back into wet swim trunks to go swimming after a storm. E.B. White encourages this confusion using his paragraph structure and references to the personas confusion of identity. We become equally confused because the author keeps going back and forth in time until we arent sure if the story is talking about the father or the son having the same experiences. This leads us to one of the purposes of the story, a new view of time. Actually this view of time is not new; there seems to be a paradox between seeing time as cyclical, repeating with the seasons each year, in which case nothing much has changed on the lake and seeing time as linear in which case change does take place and the original son in 1904 is now the father in the present time of this essay (approximately 1935?). E.B. White resolves this paradox by suggesting that time is both linear and cyclical in that the place or nature can seem to remain the same but man ages and experiences nature at different times in his life.
The confusion between the son and the father in the present day and the juxtaposed view of time as both linear and cyclical lead us to our second important deduction: the epiphany or sudden realization that the persona goes through at the end of the story when he is watching his son pull on cold swim trunks and seems to feel the coldness himself but interprets it as the chill of death is that the persona himself will someday be in the same position occupied by his own father (the grandfather of the story) and that means he will be dead. This is a profound realization that few young people have gone through unless their experiences include having to face the death of a friend or someone else their own age. It can be so profound and depressing an awareness that it could completely alter the enjoyment the persona was having in revisiting the lake. The last sentence has, in fact, had exactly that effect on the reader, so it is particularly effective in getting the point or purpose across.
Although this is a narrative, it does not conform to typical chronological narrative structure. Since obviously I want to demonstrate good writing for you to base your own writing on, why would I assign this essay? Equally obviously "Once More to the Lake" contains many passages of vivid description, most especially one of my favorite paragraphs, the next to last in the essay about a typical storm. Reread that paragraph, perhaps reading it aloud to get the entire impact of the words. He uses the metaphor of the sounds of the storm being like percussion instruments. He puts many short actions into the same sentence to show how the storm builds and changes over the course of just a few hours. But also if you look at the length of the sentences at the end of this paragraph when the storm is quieting down, read the words aloud about the calm after the storm, you will discover that you cannot read those words fast, as you could the violence of the storm. This is another example of how form enhances content, how the structure of individual sentences matches the meaning those sentences are trying to convey. I want you to try to emulate this quality of matching the sentence structure, length, flow or rhythm to the meaning of the words. When you can be critical and perfectionistic about individual sentences in your paragraphs, you will be on the way to becoming an excellent writer.
The overall structure of the essay, the jumping back and forth in time to the point of confusion on the part of the reader is also a way form enhances content because part of the purpose of the essay is to convince us that the persona can associate so clearly with his son that he gets confused about whether he is experiencing the events as a son or as a father. This makes his realization that he would someday be in the grandfather position more powerful. I do not expect that you will have a similar important reason for choosing some other organizational principle--other than chronology--for your narrative essay, but it does suggest that you could break out of chronological order IF you had a very good reason and IF you conveyed that reason to us as part of your purpose.
So, in conclusion, this is an excellent essay for you to read and use as a model first, for its vivid description and metaphorical associations which help us experience the events in the same way as the author, and second, for the profundity of its purpose and the power of the last sentence which completely changes our typical, sentimental response to a nostalgic story into one of thoughtful questioning and critical thinking.
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Created by Christine Barkley.
Copyright � Christine Barkley. All rights reserved.
Revised: February 12, 2008.
Throughout E. B. White's return to the lake in Maine he visited as a child, he experiences and re-experiences the visit as both a child and as a father. At first, he feels that the lake is the same as what it has always been, but he feels that his son, who is busy doing the things kids do, has become E. B. White. In return, E. B. White feels that he has become his...
Throughout E. B. White's return to the lake in Maine he visited as a child, he experiences and re-experiences the visit as both a child and as a father. At first, he feels that the lake is the same as what it has always been, but he feels that his son, who is busy doing the things kids do, has become E. B. White. In return, E. B. White feels that he has become his father.
During each experience, E. B. White notes the way in which the lake and its environs are similar to what they once were and the ways in which time has changed them. For example, when he is walking across the field, which remains the same, he notes that the third track, where the horses once walked, is gone, and there are only the two tracks for cars. At the end of the story, his son decides to jump into the cold lake during the rainstorm and pulls on his cold bathing suit, but E. B. White has no intention of doing so. At this moment, E. B. White feels a chill of death, as he is aware that he is no longer experiencing the lake as he did when he was a child. Instead, this experience has passed entirely to his son, and E. B. White feels intensely the passage of time and of impending death.