Re: Descriptions

1

Is the problem that this is not the kind of thing they expect to have to do for school? That they are so used to the idea that school writing requires bullshit, that they can't adjust to the idea of writing the kind of thing they might write in an email?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 10:56 AM
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Well my friend Sweet Jay took me to that video arcade in town, right, and they don't speak English there, so Jay got into a fight and he's all, "Hey quit hasslin' me cuz' I don't speak French" or whatever! And then the guy said something in Paris talk, and I'm like, "Just back off!" And they're all, "Get out!" And we're like, "Make me!" It was cool.


Posted by: Scott Evil | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:01 AM
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As I said on FB, there's a thing Sally does when she's being a jerk for comic effect; any commentary whatever (positive, negative, neutral) gets a snapped "Don't judge me! I didn't ask you to judge me!" I'm figuring that the kids these days (or whatever subset of them she belongs in) both recognize any characterization at all as 'judgment', and judgment as necessarily aggressive.

(In other irrelevant parenting news, her English class is making her read Keats, and she's been stomping around muttering about how much she hates Pantheists, and dying of consumption served him right. I'm a little concerned, but at least she seems to be engaging with the material.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:03 AM
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It is interesting that your students come from a very different background than the students of the FB poster. In the other discussion, there was an urge to ascribe the problem to a combination of political correctness and Upper Midwestern Nice.

I think peep is right. Both phenomena have to come out of student expectations of the assignments teachers give. You can't be asking a simple question about concrete facts. There has to be a trick here.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:04 AM
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"Don't judge me! I didn't ask you to judge me!"

Only God can judge me.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:07 AM
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You can't be asking a simple question about concrete facts.
Imagine, if you will, what they write about lab experiments. Observations? "This lab is complicated. I made several errors is setting up my apparatus." Conclusions? "This experiment was interesting. I liked it." Oh, my dears, that is really not how science works.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:09 AM
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On bad days I think this is just an instance of "Most People Are Terribly Dumb, How Did They Get This Far?". This usually comes up when I've been doing a lot of interviews at work (for software jobs) and having many candidates (with relevant degrees and often currently in other software jobs) fail FizzBuzz-grade problems.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:10 AM
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I was thinking I didn't have a contribution to this thread, but in fact the response papers my students have been writing have been along the lines of "we read this paper, that said these [admirably specific] things. We read this other paper, that said contradictory things, such as [more well-regurgitated detail]. I guess I believe the second one."


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:11 AM
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I bet a good chunk of what's described in 7 is the job market making people so desperate they make up qualifications.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:14 AM
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I am kind of pro well regurgitated detail, though it would be nice if I could get more of them to be better at actually contemplating the implications of the details in concert.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:20 AM
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it would be nice, I confess, etc.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:20 AM
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Oh, the well-regurgitated detail is great. But they're really supposed to be engaging at a level beyond "I guess I buy it."


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:21 AM
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Here is a relevant link that will self-destruct in ten minutes or so: [Self-destructed.]


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:25 AM
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13: Illustrative! (Woof.)


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:27 AM
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8: I liked the way this comment started out with some uncertainty, but then moved into a more concrete statement about Sifu's preferences. Unlike some of the other commenters, he wrote more than one sentence, and gave an example in each one. The timestamp of 11:11 am shows that he likely took some time to read the previous comments, but also was able to write his comment fairly quickly. I believe that Sifu's comment was the most accurate of the ones that were written so far in response to this post.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:29 AM
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I wonder if there is a way that thing could ever emphasize "Tell the story of one specific, individual incident. Describe it in its particulars." sufficiently to produce actual incident reports.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:30 AM
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15 is pretty on the nose.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:30 AM
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If you click through to "October Incidents", the instructions are changed to try to address that. Haven't had responses yet.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:31 AM
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They aren't going to do so well at job interviews where they're asked similar questions. "Describe a time when you had a conflict with a coworker. How did you resolve it?" "Working in teams is important. It helps everyone to have different perspectives."


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:33 AM
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I now understand how that kind of interview question weeds people out, for better or worse.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:35 AM
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18: October's responses preview:

"When I was [ doing the thing ] there were many students. Then L, who is there to study Wooden Shipbuilding, raised their hand to ask a question. What this experience showed me is that when I come to [ do the thing ] what I am really doing is having a number of individuals interactions with different students, all of whom have problems that are different from each other."


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:35 AM
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Many years ago, I TAed a class on William Blake for cranky old Ste/ven Marc/us (who unironically dressed like a Victorian gentleman down to the walrus mustache and three-piece suits). His first assignment had the students write a paraphrase of "The Chimney-Sweep." He spent the first fifteen minutes of the next class roundly berating them all for their inability to summarize actions in factual statements. It was sort of wonderful.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:35 AM
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21: Jeez, I'm sure that will be exactly right.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:37 AM
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Wow. I read a badly done report last year that used the phrase "critical incidents" and I couldn't figure out where on earth they had come up with such an ignorant, malformed phrase for what they were talking about.* Now I find out that this is a widely used phrase?! Ugh.

*They meant to say "case study" or "client profile".

i will say that my not-at-all-control-freak solution to these things is to rigidly enforce a model example of what I want from people. I want something like X. (performs X).

It's surprising how well it works -- e.g., when you're going around a room full of people doing introductions, if you put a plant in the audience at the first seat and you have that person do a pitch-perfect 30 second self-intro, you have at least a 60% chance of getting the rest of the audience to follow suit. Without the plant, it's more like 10-15%.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:38 AM
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i will say that my not-at-all-control-freak solution to these things is to rigidly enforce a model example of what I want from people. I want something like X. (performs X).

This is a double-edged sword. In a classroom, they're desperately seeking a model that they can follow word-for-word, to crank the assignment out and be done with it. So you don't want to enable that robotic practice.

This is why I try to only teach math.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:41 AM
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20: In fact, it weeds everyone out, except those who have taken care to memorize something.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:41 AM
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After staying for a few days with my friend's Santa Cruz friends, I came to the conclusion that they were unable to make a declarative sentence. The only thing they could report was their feelings on the situation.

I am not from Santa Cruz, so I am willing to judge them for that. If this has spread to the next generation, they have a lot to answer for.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:42 AM
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26: It selects for people who have been trained on interviews, and knew to think up four incidents ahead of time that could be plugged in to a wide array of questions.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:44 AM
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Yeah, welcome to my job. Now imagine throwing drugs, booze, a language barrier, and a reflexive urge to lie to the questioner into the mix.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:44 AM
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26: I don't think so. It's not good for new grads, but I've been asked this sort of thing and managed to answer OK. (I was expecting a technical interview and got a touchy-feely one.)


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:45 AM
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29: why are you assuming heebie doesn't have to deal with those?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:45 AM
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My students definitely don't have a reflexive urge to lie. They just say things like "I failed the test because I went out with my friends all week. I probably should've studied more. It wasn't your fault, Dr. Geebie." (I really do get them consoling me when I ask "Hey, what happened?" I don't think I act particularly torn up over their F.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:47 AM
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On the writing exercise:

'Round here, among the sensitive anarchist hippies, asking people to write about their personal lives for a class is discouraged. The thinking is that someone may feel pressured to share something and either feel upset about the pressure or end up sharing something that they would rather not. Also, because we can't know who has some horrible traumatic thing going on currently, we tend to assume that asking people to talk about events in their lives may bring up bad associations or bad memories. And for students who are financially or socially vulnerable, it may be painful to have to reveal those vulnerabilities in a class full of semi-strangers - so while some students can write about their ski weekends or whatever, another student might feel ashamed that she wrote about [thing indicative of social vulnerability].

On the one hand, I find this way more fussy than any approach I encountered as a student; on the other, I also have a much more diverse peer group in all kinds of ways than I did growing up, and I definitely know people who would feel really uncomfortable being pushed to write about their personal lives for class.

Do you feel that this crowd might be uncomfortable sharing life stuff? (I am assuming that this isn't some kind of memoir-writing project where they knew they'd be sharing personal life stuff.)

The paraphrase you give, though, sounds like it comes straight from a job interview - the relentless positivity, for one thing, and the way that you're supposed to avoid too many specifics in job interviews both to avoid bogging down your answer and giving the impression that you are indiscreet.

Do you have the option of sharing a personal reflection of yours with them as a model? The one time I had to teach people a totally new format, I wrote a bunch of them myself as samples so that I had something pitched exactly at my students' level.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 11:58 AM
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"To avoid both", that is.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:00 PM
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They're being asked to share an incident from their time spent volunteering. Not from their private lives.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:00 PM
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Would giving three examples that are pretty different from each other prevent rigid imitation, or just be confusing? (I would need at least one, myself, since I'd never heard the phrase "critical incident" before.)

I wonder why describing paintings is so difficult, apart from maybe not everyone knows what "empirical sensory information" is. I assume these are non-representational paintings; I guess it could mean the students have either no education at all in the visual arts, or way too much (of the sort where discussions of paintings are never about what color they are, or what real objects the shapes in them might resemble, unless the answer is genitalia).


Posted by: Sheila | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:07 PM
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37

I am surely out of the loop on this sort of thing, but I have never heard the phrase "critical incident" before. Is it a term of art? Something like this? Essentially, a noteworthy or momentous event, right?

I mean, it's no excuse for not answering the question as posed, but what that kind of phraseology says to me is, "I am bullshitting you; please bullshit me back."


Posted by: Ace K | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:15 PM
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Writing that describes a painting is fucking hard. I don't know that I could do that. Combine that with the students' totally accurate intuition that the real purpose of any exercise is to judge them for their thought process and that no one actually cares about whether or not their description is accurate (as opposed to reflecting the kind of thoughts they think the teacher wants them to be thinking) and it's unsurprising that you get stuff like this.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:17 PM
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37 also gets it right. Writing about time spent volunteering? Of course the purpose is to show that I'm a good person who thinks the right things in good ways about volunteering.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:19 PM
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Writing that describes a painting is fucking hard. I don't know that I could do that.

Ecphrastic songcraft.

Catchy tune, too!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:19 PM
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38: True. When I was an arts editor, the hardest things to get reviewers for were visual arts and dance. Everybody thinks they know about music, movies and 30 minutes or less pizza delivery, but ask someone to write about some paintings and they start flailing and hyperventilating.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:20 PM
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I agree with 37. I blame the schools. Exactly which pedagogical philosophy or government policy is most at fault is left as an exercise for the reader, but come on, in the context of an assignment for a class, how often is the average student asked to describe a specific event with no frills?

In journalism class, unless the current teacher has an editorial bent. Maybe sometimes in other kinds of writing classes, but think about how flowery and metaphorical are most fiction people get assigned to read. Other than that, they're always being asked for some kind of reflection or interpretation, and it's easier to make up more of that than to think up more details.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:23 PM
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38: If all I had to do is get someone on the other end of the phone to pick the painting out of a line-up of twenty? "It is a landscape. Trees on the right. Pond on the left. Three clouds in the sky." Check on how much that narrows it down. "Flowers are orange-y, not the blue ones." "No, no clowns in the foreground."

I don't have to get into brush technique, which I very much don't know, to describe a painting.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:26 PM
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32: I had this exact experience recently, heebie. I brought in a student who had plagiarized to give them the bad news about how now they would be failing the class, and they ended up consoling me.

"No, no, dr. delagar. This is totally not your fault! It's my fault! I should have made sure I cited my sources! I knew to do it! I did!"

This is so absolutely different from what would have happened ten years ago. What's up with these students?


Posted by: delagar | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:28 PM
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I wasn't acting particularly distraught either. I just mentioned that maybe it was partly my fault for not emphasizing the need to cite sources more thoroughly.

Like maybe more than six times in the review session and putting it twice on the review sheet and on the actual exam once, I mean.


Posted by: delagar | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:30 PM
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Writing that describes a painting is fucking hard.

Please. "It has a triangle in the corner. There's a sun peeking out. The eggs are sitting in mid-air."

I'm sure the kids are projecting a different kind of (bull-shitty) assignment, and that's why they're not doing it, but let's not pretend that it's hard to describe a painting.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:35 PM
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43: Yeah, but that's terrible writing that also doesn't really describe anything about the painting and is beyond uninteresting. Surely the teacher doesn't want THAT (I would say, were I a student).

And the volunteering thing, come on. "Describe and discuss a critical incident when you were volunteering." If that doesn't immediately signal "time to turn on the bullshit fountain and talk about some crap that signals I'm a nice person" I don't know what does.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:36 PM
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You guys are just describing what the painting looks like.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:38 PM
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That was the assignment, no?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:40 PM
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What do the students say when you ask them about it? "Oh, you wanted us to mention that the lady in the painting was cutting the dude's head off? I mean, I noticed that, but I thought you were looking for something else"? "A lifetime in the American swirl has left me terrified of making statements that might be challenged"? "My self-esteem coach told me to broadcast my opinions and let the facts fend for themselves"?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:40 PM
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I am surely out of the loop on this sort of thing, but I have never heard the phrase "critical incident" before. Is it a term of art? Something like this? Essentially, a noteworthy or momentous event, right?

I dunno, I got the assignment recommended to me by the volunteer coordinator.

There is a real problem with students volunteering, in that they walk away with all kinds of feel-good superiority and "there I fixed it!" notions about large, societal problems. From what I understand, you want the student to actually:
1. start to understand the scope of the problem
2. see the volunteering as part of their own education and growth
3. see that the local people are actually experts in the situation, and that as volunteers, they should be answering to the people that are embedded in the situation
4. to see volunteering as more of a mutual transaction that benefits both parties, instead of a gift that a superior party bestows on a lesser party.

Except the volunteering isn't within a course, they're just doing it because they're good kids. So it's hard to get them to do anything extra, because they've got busy lives and the reflections are both boring and possibly scary/destabilizing to their house of cards about how the world works.

So the convention is to ask them to do a short reflection piece, on their own time.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:41 PM
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"Describe and discuss a critical incident when you were volunteering."

This isn't how the assignment was phrased.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:43 PM
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So the convention is to ask them to do a short reflection piece, on their own time.

Oh my God it's the ultimate bullshit assignment. I would write it only after suppressing a strong urge to just write FUCK YOU I JUST VOLUNTEERED on the first page and turn it in.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:47 PM
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I mean, that's just me.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:48 PM
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Of course it's a bullshit assignment. If you have a better way to accomplish anything towards those four goals, I'm all ears.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:48 PM
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Also, after you suppressed the urge to write FUCK YOU I JUST VOLUNTEERED, you'd probably describe, like, an actual incident. You might invent it wholesale, but I wouldn't be uncertain as to whether or not you understood the assignment.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:49 PM
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How about a group meeting, where they sit around and talk about their experiences, with a senior person there to talk about the effect and effectiveness of what they did, and also (maybe in a different session) one of the people that they were purportedly helping.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:49 PM
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[bye-bye link, again.]


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:50 PM
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51: So is the idea that these students, who as we have determined are not exactly disposed to reflect on the nature of writing assignments, will eventually come to conclusions 1-4 by being asked to describe a few "critical incidents"?

This is making me worry that all of the seemingly worthless busywork I was assigned back in my school days actually had an ulterior pedagogical purpose, and that I might be a much better person today if only I had reflected a little harder on what seemed like foolish questions.


Posted by: Ace K | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:52 PM
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42: In science classes! They have to observe whatever they're studying! They suck at it there, too.
48: To pick it out of a lineup, right? How would you describe a person if asked the same? Well, he looks serious. I think his mood is sombre. He's probably got a blue collar job. I bet he drives a nice car. Or would you actually describe the person's appearance?
I agree they're primed to give BS answers about art and literature especially, since we spend so much time teaching them that their initial impressions are wrong and art is about sex and death and phallic symbols and not just a nice story. I think eventually they develop a real aversion to straightforward answers.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:52 PM
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57: While I'm stuck trying to think of a bullshit answer, I'll give you the real reason instead: I don't want to. That's two hours of my time and I resent the whole fucking thing. Plus afterwards I'd have to document that for assessment purposes, to show that they did their reflecting and grew like good little flowers, whereas with a website I can just point the powers that be to the responses on the website, and it's done.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:53 PM
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That Flynn guy thinks that the rise in IQs over time is due to the popularization of abstract thinking. Maybe this is associated a deemphasis on paying attention to the details.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:54 PM
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So is the idea that these students, who as we have determined are not exactly disposed to reflect on the nature of writing assignments, will eventually come to conclusions 1-4 by being asked to describe a few "critical incidents"?

Basically, the lofty pedagogy is always sincere, and then it's poorly implemented by people who are exhausted, busy, and broke.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:56 PM
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It's extremely hard to offer accurate written or oral descriptions that describe how people look, as well, as I'm sure GSwift will agree. I mean absent any distinguishing features. "I dunno, a white guy, pretty big, but not too big, maybe, I dunno 25-50? Had a kind of beige-ish shirt on." That's not actually a good description of a person. The "pick out of a lineup" thing is bullshit because the descriptions are either trivial and don't actually convey much about the experience of looking at the painting ("There is a duck in this painting. Also, a man") or extremely difficult to do well.

Science has very limited paramaters, scope of enquiry (what hypothesis are you trying to prove in the lab?), and a technical vocabulary (so I'm told) to make this very difficult job more bounded and possible.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:58 PM
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64 to 60.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 12:59 PM
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I bet half of all jobs involve having to document how things actually are. How on earth is that not a useful skill? You have to represent facts and descriptions to people not present all the time. This is pretty much one of the major functions of writing.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:01 PM
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I agree they're primed to give BS answers about art and literature especially, since we spend so much time teaching them that their initial impressions are wrong...I think eventually they develop a real aversion to straightforward answers.

Right. And don't forget that people are relentlessly mocked for being earnest and taking a question at face value. I can't tell you how many times in my life people have come up to me after an event and said some equivalent of, "I am so glad you said X because that's what I was thinking but I was afraid people would laugh at me."


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:02 PM
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bullshit because the descriptions are either trivial and don't actually convey much about the experience of looking at the painting ("There is a duck in this painting. Also, a man") or extremely difficult to do well.

It's only bullshit if you actually think the reader has access to the painting. If you don't think the reader can see the painting - and needs to know what's going on - then it's a real task.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:03 PM
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Sure, but in the real world, what details you need to convey are generally prescribed by the reason for the inquiry. "Which paintings show people's heads being cut off?" "Are there animals sitting in the paintings, and where are they located" are all questions students, like any ordinary person, would probably answer easily and with some descriptive detail.

"Describe the painting" in the sense of conveying it is a very difficult task, because none of those paramaters are clear, and, presumably, you're supposed to actually be providing a useful description of it that could allow someone to see the painting in one's mind's eye. That is hard!


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:06 PM
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68 -- It's even harder if you think the person doesn't have access to the painting. For example, I have no idea whatsoever what the hypothetical painting discussed in 43 or 46 looks like. I guess if I had 20 paintings I could use those as criteria as a way of eliminating ones that were definitely not the ones described, but based on the descriptions alone I have basically no idea what a painting looks like, which, as a student, would make me completely question the point of the exercise. Seriously, someone link to a painting and try to write something that describes it well to someone who has never seen it before. It's hard!


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:10 PM
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51: Given points 1-4, I think the best way to further those goals would be to offer the students some articles or short (very short) stories that lead to those conclusions, rather than just asking them leading questions. A condensed history about all the wide-ranging causes of the problem, maybe a well-written account by another volunteer, that sort of thing. I also think those goals are... not exactly wrong-headed, but do not need to be a high priority. We do not live in a world with a surfeit of liberal interventionism and naïve idealism. Let's try to get a few more hours of useful, earnest volunteering out of the kids before they notice that shit is fucked up and it's impossible to make a difference - they'll figure it out on their own before too much longer.

Given that trying to teach them those lessons is apparently a directive from on high, I have nothing to offer except commiseration.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:10 PM
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The last thing one should want in college assignments is for them to challenge students to do a difficult thing well.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:10 PM
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72 -- Well, fine, but then let's not be beating them up on the internet for their supposedly mysterious lack of ability to describe detail.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:11 PM
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66: It's hard to believe that students can't literally describe things. People describe things all the time! I'd be inclined to think that the seemingly trivial and contrived nature of the assignment is tricking them into thinking that it's actually being graded on other, more occult criteria. It's not as though anybody actually needs me to get my friend to pick a painting out of a lineup. The critical incidents that happened while I was volunteering are undoubtedly of interest to nobody. What's this really all about? Am I being graded on vocabulary and grammar? How lucid my prose is? The kind of person I am?

This kind of ulterior grading actually happens, e.g. on the SAT. It's possible to overthink the assignment, but who knows what they really want? It's a jungle out there.


Posted by: Ace K | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:12 PM
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66
I bet half of all jobs involve having to document how things actually are. How on earth is that not a useful skill? You have to represent facts and descriptions to people not present all the time. This is pretty much one of the major functions of writing.

Oh, it's definitely a useful skill, I'm just saying it's not taught much. Presumably they'll learn it on the job.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:12 PM
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Sure, but in the real world, what details you need to convey are generally prescribed by the reason for the inquiry. "Which paintings show people's heads being cut off?" "Are there animals sitting in the paintings, and where are they located" are all questions students, like any ordinary person, would probably answer easily and with some descriptive detail.

I like the description in Bob Drake's "Ten for a Dime":

"""
First we see a doorway and then we see a stairway and then we see a hallway and then the room in which this story takes place.
Ten for a dime!
Ten for a dime!
Here is the kitchen and here is the table and here is the mirror and here is the book and here are lots of other things.
There goes a hammer. There goes an apple. There goes a square with shading on one side.
Ten for a dime!
"""


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:13 PM
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offer the students some articles or short (very short) stories that lead to those conclusions, rather than just asking them leading questions. A condensed history about all the wide-ranging causes of the problem, maybe a well-written account by another volunteer, that sort of thing.

Nobody, but nobody, would read it.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:14 PM
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You all do realize I'm literally linking to the student's answers above, right?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:15 PM
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I guess 77 to 78.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:16 PM
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Pwned by everyone while I was typing, but posting anyway.
64: Right, but you're still describing how the guy looked, not guessing things about him based on his appearance. I'm not suggesting that there aren't massive problems with eyewitnesses or in remembering details or with translating a mental picture to speech. I'm saying that the OP is describing a situation where a limited description of physical attributes would be appropriate, and the students aren't getting it. If I were describing a person, I'd do about what you're doing. Tall or short, male or female, a guess at race, hair color, glasses or not, etc. I assume the prof is putting up a picture of a painting and asking them to describe it and they're all one step ahead of the question being asked because they think they're being asked to analyze paintings for mood and technical details. For science classes, I was thinking of little kid science. Think of geology for 9 year olds. What does your rock look like? Red, shiny, flaky. You report what you see, not why you're seeing it. Then, maybe you compare your rock to a chart or something to figure out more about it. It does get more complicated, but pretty much every science assignment from grade school through college has a space where students are supposed to record their observations without any editorializing about why they saw what they saw. Like journalism, except pretty much every student has to do this at least through high school. I mean, your observations might be more like recording times for a car to run down a ramp, but it's still a factual report of what you're seeing and doing.

My point is that in both cases, the students are skipping the first step, which is the basic description of the painting/incident, which then should be followed by analysis, and I think it is an actual problem regardless of how BS the questions seem. They're losing the process of fact-finding as a prelude to interpretation.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:22 PM
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Seriously, someone link to a painting and try to write something that describes it well to someone who has never seen it before. It's hard!

Painting

Description (from here):

.. [P]ainting that was large, but not too large -- about the size of a dishwasher. ... a landscape ... featuring water, .... realistic treatment, visible brushstrokes, blended colors, soft curves. ... wild animals appearing, as well as people -- famous or not -- fully clothed and at leisure

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:25 PM
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Now that I've read the comments, I think the whole exercise was doomed once the first person misunderstood the assignment. It's pretty usual for people to rely on what somebody else said first when responding to something that vague.

I second the suggestion about having a plant to give an example of what kind of thing is wanted in the first comment; a similar strategy might clear up any confusion about whether the assignment is really that simple for the painting question, too.

Unless the painting assignment really is some kind of Rorschach test, I guess, in which case you can just ask the students to spot the vaginas and call it a day.


Posted by: Sheila | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:27 PM
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78: I read at least one and skimmed the others, I swear.

77: They don't seem to be getting anything out of the current exercise either, so I guess you're just doomed to failure no matter what you try.

Seriously though, you can't imagine any of the kids at all reading a few articles or essays about people like them or an activity they just did? They can't get through a story the length of a newspaper article? I get that students don't generally like doing anything that feels like work, but wow, that's even worse than I would have expected. How were these lazy-ass kids persuaded to volunteer to begin with? Are they being asked to help with something so awful they can't bear to think about it for 10 minutes more?


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:28 PM
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82: Actually, the comments were moderated and then posted more-or-less simultaneously. Except for the last one which trickled in late.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:29 PM
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61 makes perfect sense, and the responses in 58 are actually perfect for their institutional purpose.

Also, the question requests specifics about an individual identified by initials, I can see lots of reasons for the tutors' not doing that. I sympathize with the plights of both teachers in the OP. But I agree with the others who point out that the students have been trained by trick questions and harsh criticism of naive responses in past school encounters.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:30 PM
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But yes, the instructions for October are much more specific.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:30 PM
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Following up on 81, some of Komar's recent work is interesting. Does somebody want to take a stab at describing this paiting or this one?


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:31 PM
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84

Huh.


Posted by: Sheila | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:32 PM
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84

Huh.


Posted by: Sheila | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:32 PM
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Seriously though, you can't imagine any of the kids at all reading a few articles or essays about people like them or an activity they just did? They can't get through a story the length of a newspaper article?

They wouldn't mind, in principle, but if there isn't time carved out for doing a task, or another person verifying that you've done a task, the task just doesn't get done. You'd have to ask them to summarize and reflect on the articles, or something.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:34 PM
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Seriously, someone link to a painting and try to write something that describes it well to someone who has never seen it before. It's hard!

Down the center of a tall rust-colored rectangle a wavering orange brushstroke descends. Where the brushstroke deviates from the center line, the edges of a strip of tape, slightly darker than the rust-red background, are visible.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:35 PM
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I thought Komar and Melamid were a funny novelty act but basically not that interesting until they randomly turned up in John McPhee's book about black market exporting of art under the Soviets (this) and turn out to be have been sort of big wheels as far as the dissident Moscow art scene of the '70s went. Who knew!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:37 PM
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The book in 92 is chock-a-block with descriptions of paintings, in case anybody's looking for more.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:39 PM
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(I actually rejected one response, a very earnest paragraph about getting used to living in a dorm after living at home. With the most tangential nod to tutoring, so it wasn't literally a case of mixed up assignments.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:39 PM
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Who knew!

Not I. I admit to thinking of them as an interesting and funny novelty act.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:39 PM
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91 is good.
87.2 First pass for the top shapes: a royal blue circle circumscribes a pale blue hexagon, which is inscribed with a mash-up of the Star Trek insignia with the Star of David. I'll spare you since mine isn't a pretty description.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:44 PM
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91 is very good, but then again Nosflow is a good writer and picked a good painting for the exercise. I don't think 96.2 is particularly meaningfully descriptive of 87.2; it might help me distinguish it from another painting if I had ten paintings in front of me, but I'm not able to see anything like the actual painting from the written description.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:48 PM
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This one is just perfect:

One thing that really stood out to me was how some of them seemed so willing to answer even though they knew they didn't understand the concept of the lesson as well as somebody else might have. I felt that I could relate to them in the way of sometimes not knowing fully what might be going on


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:55 PM
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in which they choose a critical incident and describe it

Today I did the phone interview as a reference on behalf of a friend of mine who's applying for a job. I actually found it really difficult to give concrete answers to their questions. "Can you give us a specific example of a time when [X] impressed you?" And all that comes to mind are "no, but at least he's not an asshole like [Y]" or "that time he drank a third of a bottle of whiskey and gave a good talk the next day".


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:56 PM
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49: The assignment is to describe the painting, not what the painting looks like.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 1:57 PM
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I'm not able to see anything like the actual painting from the written description.

I should mention that I picked the two paintings in 87.2 in part because I like both of them (even if they do look a bit like art from a pulp science fiction novel), but I couldn't tell you why. Obviously there's a difference between "what do you like about this painting?" and "what does this painting look like?" But I'm curious how people would answer the second question because I'm not sure how I would answer the first.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:02 PM
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I admit to thinking of them as an interesting and funny novelty act.

Yes, but they look a little Jewish.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:02 PM
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I should amend my earlier comment to say that it's intensely frustrating to get these kind of responses, and I don't mean to imply that there's a simple fix.

I'm in the midst of stress-testing a government resource right now and I gave my interns a detailed explanation of what we are doing and WHY. Included in that several times was the explanation that we can ONLY conduct the test with real-world examples, because it's disrespectful and wasteful of government agencies' time to submit false requests.

aaand today I come to find out that one of my interns AND one of my staff thought it was A-OK to submit duplicate requests. (These go to different staffers in the same department.)

Argh! What part of "It is inappropriate and unacceptable to impose unnecessary work" did you not hear?!


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:04 PM
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49: The assignment is to describe the painting, not what the painting looks like.

Ladies and gentlemen, the White Knight.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:04 PM
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Citing McPhee as an ideal suggests a possible tactic-- require a minimum wordcount, pick a large value, require at least one proper noun per two sentences. Maybe have the students turn in an initial attempt, then provide the additional criteria for writing. To impress the difference, have them read initial and revised versions of another kid's descriptions.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:07 PM
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91 reminded me of the narrator's description of the controversial abstract painting, "The Temptation of Saint Anthony" in Breakfast of Champions:

The original was twenty feet wide and sixteen feet high. The field was Hawaiian Avocado, a green wall paint manufactured by the O'Hare Paint and Varnish Company in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. The vertical stripe was dayglo orange reflecting tape.
To Benquo's point in 100, the artist Rabo Karabekian described it thus:
"I now give you my word of honor," he went on, "that the picture your city owns shows everything about life which truly flutters, with nothing left out. It is a picture of the awareness of every animal. It is the immaterial core of every animal--the 'I am' to which all messages are sent. It is all that is alive in any of us--in a mouse, in a deer, in a cocktail waitress. It is unwavering and pure, no matter what preposterous adventure may befall us. A sacred picture of Saint Anthony alone is one vertical, unwavering band of light. If a cockroach were near him, or a cocktail waitress, the picture would show two such bands of light. Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery.
Because I'm middlebrow like that.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:19 PM
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I was in a German modern art museum once where, on the little artwork labels, they reliably reported whether female nudes were depicted with or without pubic hair. Maybe that would be a good writing prompt for Heebie's friends' students.


Posted by: Scomber mix | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:21 PM
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106: I'm fairly positive that Rabo Karabekian's paintings are based on Barnett Newman's zips.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:23 PM
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I was in a German modern art museum once where, on the little artwork labels, they reliably reported whether female nudes were depicted with or without pubic hair.

Danke!


Posted by: OPINIONATED JOHN RUSKIN | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:27 PM
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97, it might help me distinguish it from another painting if I had ten paintings in front of me
Meet
Describe it as if you were on the phone and needed the other person to recognize that painting in a lineup
from the OP.

So, just describing one fourth of what is shown, you could pick it out of a lineup? I bet it would be even better if I'd described the rest, even with unlovely phrases.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:28 PM
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There's a chapter of Julian Barnes' "The History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters" about Gericault's "Raft of the Medusa" which might serve as a good prompt for empirical-sensory-information about a painting. "There are five figures (two prone, three supine) who look either dead or dying, plus an old greybeard with his back to the sighted Argus in a posture of mourning."


Posted by: Scomber mix | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:29 PM
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Yes, why wouldn't one trust Julian Barnes' descriptions?


Posted by: OPINIONATED MARTIN AMIS | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:33 PM
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My organization has institutionalized the touch-feely interviews, and I'm convinced its driving away good people. If I want to know about a guys chopps with UNIX, and I have to ask him, "Tell me about a time that you had a dissagreement with your manager?", any self-respecting UNIX geek is going to run screaming for the doors. When you build a filter thats built to filter out the bullshit-averse, you end up with an organization way too indulgent of its own bullshit.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:40 PM
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110 -- Right, but I'm saying that no student would take that assignment seriously to be the assignment, and with good reason. "Um there's a circle and a square in the painting. Done?" Any student with half a brain and a sense that they're being evaluated on their work is going to believe that describing a physical object in the simplest, most unobservant, most interesting possible way can't possibly be the assignment. All of us are capable of describing basic facts about something that we're looking directly at (I am looking at a white screen on a computer monitor right now!") but without some context for why we are offering the description (or without some attempt to actually meaningfully describe the painting) it seems like a ridiculous exercise and it's not surprising students have trouble with it.

Or, actually, I don't know anything at all about how the assignment is actually assigned or described or what the purpose is. But it's unsurprising that you'd have to be really careful about explaining exactly that you really really do want and expect answers of the kind "this painting has five ducks in it" and not some kind of more meaningful description/analysis of the painting in order to get the answer you're looking for from students.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:41 PM
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6: The funniest context in which I ever heard "only god can judge me!" was from a very non-compliant defendant on the way into a courtroom. His attorney and I may have pointed out that this was a misperception.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:50 PM
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108: It seems so. I never read Bluebeard and did not know (or forgot) that he was the main character in that book.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:53 PM
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If you like the Iraq War so much, Amis, go fucking fight.


Posted by: OPINIONATED UNITED KINGDOM | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 2:56 PM
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When you build a filter thats built to filter out the bullshit-averse, you end up with an organization way too indulgent of its own bullshit.

Yes. I really despise personal statement culture. It trains everyone to think of literacy as a way to produce acceptable bullshit on command.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 3:00 PM
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. It trains everyone to think of literacy as a way to produce acceptable bullshit on command.

Isn't this like 8/10 of what kids actually get demanded to do in high shcool and college writing?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 3:02 PM
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That last sentence may have revealed, for more than one reason, that I could have used a better writing class.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 3:04 PM
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It trains everyone to think of literacy as a way to produce acceptable bullshit on command.

Just to play devil's advocate, it's only bullshit if you know you are capable of producing better work, and you're hiding out at personal-statement-ville out of laziness*. For a lot of students, it's a legitimate stage that they're at, and the point of teachers is to help move students along to a more sophisticated stage.

*I'm not pointing fingers but I think we all know who we are, and we all are. Here, I mean.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 3:16 PM
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I play a game with myself where I write the most incoherent thing that I can trust you all are smart enough to make sense of. 121.last was worth three points. This comment itself is two points.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 3:19 PM
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it's only bullshit if you know you are capable of producing better work, and you're hiding out at personal-statement-ville out of laziness

My brother has praised his introductory writing class in college for starting with exercises of the form, "quote a passage from the reading, re-state the meaning of the passage, then offer a basic analysis of the significance." He found it very helpful to have that explicitly spelled out as the basic building block for any more complicated writing, and to take the time to practice being able to do it well.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 3:25 PM
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It trains everyone to think of literacy as a way to produce acceptable bullshit on command.

Every semester, about the time midterm papers come due, I develop Orwellian fears for the collapse of the English language. I envision huge masses of people not really communicating at all, just repeating socially acceptable catchphrases every moment of their lives.

Thanks to this thread that time of the semester has come early.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 3:34 PM
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If I'm reading you correctly, you're saying that the semester is just flying by!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 3:36 PM
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I was interviewing people this week. I gave them a diagram of a simple(ish) architecture for a real-life service. And then asked them to talk me through how they'd find the source of problem I was complaining about. Some people are shockingly bad at this kind of task, and I was really holding their hand, rather than being confrontational or difficult.

Fine, it's a specific skill-set, but it was also the specific skill set the job explicitly requires, so if you are crap at it, it's hard to see why you'd apply.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 4:16 PM
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126 is my kind of interview question.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 4:17 PM
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Likewise. 126 is easy to ask, but it's easy to answer if and only if you can do the job.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 4:24 PM
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125 is awesome.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 4:33 PM
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Ah, I am sad to have mostly missed this thread. Oh well.

Ecphrastic songcraft.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 6:01 PM
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God, I always hated those assignments where I had to describe a personal experience and then turn it into a story that had a point.* Because my life in fact is not full of poignant, teachable moments. Nowadays I'm able to superimpose on it a quasi-coherent narrative, but I still suspect that it's mostly random noise underneath that.**

*I had an English teacher who gave us articles from the New Yorker to illustrate this style. This was very helpful.

**So, just to elaborate on my wacko personal philosophy, I believe that choosing a narrative to describe your life is more of a reflection of your internal moral principles, than a rational conclusion based on external events. Which causes me to pass moral judgments on people based on their self-narratives. Which I really shouldn't do.


Posted by: torrey pine | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 7:05 PM
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Ooh, I like 131.3. I've always thought that your internal moral principles arise from the narratives you tell about your life, but your way sounds more plausible and probably implies I'm an internal jerk or something.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 7:08 PM
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I once asked an interviewee what he was best at. He asked me to rephrase the question a couple of times and then announced that he was best at everything. There was a probable language issue then, but one particularly horrendous experience has caused me to wonder whether there are like 1024 varieties of mutually incomprehensible English spoken natively in the United States. Could you remove, like, random words from the assignment, or insert unusual punctuation, and see whether you get a different result?


Posted by: bianca steele | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 7:12 PM
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I am the best at being awesome.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 7:14 PM
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132: It could go both ways! However, I'd be very wary of any theory that suggests that you (Thorn) are a jerk.


Posted by: torrey pine | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 7:15 PM
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General ideas are no proof of the strength, but rather of the insufficiency of the human intellect; for there are in nature no beings exactly alike, no things precisely identical, nor any rules indiscriminately and alike applicable to several objects at once. The chief merit of general ideas is, that they enable the human mind to pass a rapid judgment on a great many objects at once; but, on the other hand, the notions they convey are never otherwise than incomplete, and they always cause the mind to lose as much in accuracy as it gains in comprehensiveness.


Posted by: OPINIONATED ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 7:21 PM
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There is a reasonable amount of research that suggests (or maybe presumes) that the construction of egocentric narratives is a pretty central part of conscious experience, but I dunno, could be wrong.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 7:24 PM
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And that's more stuff along the lines of "why did I just do that?" than "how, exactly, am I the hero?"


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 7:25 PM
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135: I was just joking and not fishing for compliments, I swear. Now I do feel a little jerky. (But I'm also obsessed with the kind of stories people tell themselves about themselves. Hmm, and that is basically core to how I parent, which I hadn't thought about before.)


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 7:26 PM
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I believe Tia is pretty familiar with that research.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 7:26 PM
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138: Right, that's why as a dad you have to say out loud, "Look, Zardoz, I am using my thumb to aim the killer quadcopter at that unsuspecting person over there" or whatever so that she will understand from day one.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 7:32 PM
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Anyway, I only meant it in the sense of doing lit crit on real people's lives, not requiring an actual theory of consciousness and didn't mean to be dismissive of any actual research. Now I'm going to bed, though, because my definining narrative is that I'm an idiot who stays up late because the house is quiet even though what I really need is sleep.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 8:25 PM
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142: yeah

also 30: it can be used on recent grads. It weeds out the ones who claim they'd worked on group projects but think the right answer is that there were never any problems that had to be worked out among the team members in the whole time they were working on them.


Posted by: bianca steele | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 8:36 PM
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143.1 on the quiet house thing not on whether you were or meant to be dismissive. It's really too late but I don't want to get up and make my kid's lunch.


Posted by: bianca steele | Link to this comment | 10-17-13 8:37 PM
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But those descriptions of paintings aren't really empirical sensory information. Nosflow's importing certain ideas about how a painting was made (which are notoriously unreliable empirically) while the Barnes isn't even pretending to give empiral sensory data at all.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 1:45 AM
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(I am trying so hard not to say negative things about Lee, but this morning when the baby started making noise, Lee said, "Oh, I'll go get her!" and then did and immediately brought her to me! To her credit, when I explained that I'd expected she'd be a little more help rather than just literal after that declaration, she did take the baby downstairs for her first breakfast and to feed the dog and I got to lie awake in bed an extra ten minutes. But SERIOUSLY????)


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 4:50 AM
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The assignment is to describe the painting, not what the painting looks like.

This painting consists of a 4 by 2 foot piece of treated canvas stretched across a supporting frame made of varnished ash wood. One side of the canvas is covered with a thick layer of oil based paint in various colours, apparently applied by hand with a series of brushes of different size. The other side of the canvas is clear except for a small adhesive paper label bearing the name of the painting and a seven-digit code which probably correlates to the gallery catalogue. Overall it weighs approximately 11 pounds.

God, I always hated those assignments where I had to describe a personal experience and then turn it into a story that had a point.

It trains everyone to think of literacy as a way to produce acceptable bullshit on command.

This. Or rather these. If you tell people beforehand that volunteering means they'll be forced to do this kind of bullshit self-criticism essay afterwards to show how it has HUMBLED THEM AND HELPED THEM GROW AS A PERSON then they just won't volunteer, because staying at home playing Xbox is more fun, and good for them.
I bet if you asked: "Describe a way in which the organisation you volunteered for could be improved; how did you realise this?" they'd come up with something much more cogent like "oh, it's a real problem that we have to submit all these report forms in hard copy. A lot of my time was spent carrying them all back to the city council office. If we could email them instead it would be a lot easier." As it is, as 74 says, they think it's a trap.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 5:24 AM
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146: And did you feel like Charlie Brown with the football? I hate that feeling.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 5:51 AM
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"And then you pulled a Lucy..." was a routine part of the discourse in my last serious relationship.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:18 AM
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To the OP, perhaps tgis reflects a sense that their subjective response to a a painting or incident or other concrete this is as or more real than the objective details. What is important isn't the yellow rectangle, but that I personally found the painting warm and upbeat!


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:25 AM
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If 33 is right, you're training people to believe that any description of factual events is potentially insulting and insensitive. No wonder they limit themselves to talking about the insides of their own skulls.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:30 AM
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||

Slate's new design is a huge improvement. I can't find anything, so I go there less often and when I do go, I spend less time.

|


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:33 AM
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"Oh look, the sun's out!"

"Damn you, sir! You'll answer to me for that"


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:34 AM
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Fortunately, the sun went back where it belongs, behind a thick layer of clouds.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:36 AM
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151 isn't very generous. I can think of lots of examples where it would definitely make a student uncomfortable - writing about holidays, for example. Or food. What about writing about parents (even for little kids - Mother's Day and Father's Day)? I don't think that means that Heebie U's assignment fits that category since they're getting the experience as part of the package, but asking a teacher/prof to be a bit more sensitive about their assignments (particularly ones to be shared with peers) isn't going to ruin pedagogy.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:44 AM
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Write about a time something embarrassing happened to you in the bathroom.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:45 AM
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People are always blowing things out of proportion if they happen in restrooms.


Posted by: Opinionated Senator Craig | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:47 AM
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152: I think the "blocky" aesthetic on web pages may have jumped the shark. It was an interesting innovation, but it turns out that segregating content into rectangles, each of which competes visually for your attention, is a lot more headache-inducing than simply putting stuff in a reverse chronological list.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:48 AM
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Also, Slate inexplicably decided to go with a fugly-ass font.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:50 AM
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156. When I am in a crowded place and am bored, one of the things I do is look around and try to guess who has dropped a cell phone into the toilet. For men I think that the failure mode is either from a shirt pocket or from drunkenness. I do not know what would most typically cause women to have this accident.

I have never personally done this, but did have a shirt pocket clse call in 2002.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:51 AM
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Oh man I have dropped something much worse than a cell phone into something much worse than a standard toilet.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:52 AM
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148-9: Not really, because it was my fault for assuming. I know even when she offers to do some childcare thing, odds are good she'll feel too tired or otherwise unable. Right now the deal basically is that I'm doing all the childcare (though not quite, I tried to think it through last night and she'll often do Mara's bedtime and drives the girls to school 2-3 times a week and picks them up once or twice, takes Selah for walks in the Ergo backpack sometimes when the weather is nice, but she can't put it on by herself and so I need to be there and awake to send them off and it has to be timed so no diaper changes will be required, etc.) and so I know not to expect much more until she figures out the things she's supposed to be working on now. It's not great, but I'm getting by better than usual by trying not to be bitter or have expectations.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:52 AM
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159: Did you miss the Slate article about how ugly fonts are best?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:52 AM
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Standard toilets are nothing. Its the drop-toilets they have developing countries that are dangerous for dropping stuff. Especially when you have to squat, and have things pour out of your pockets.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:54 AM
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Especially when you have to squat, and have things pour out of your pockets.

"My beanie babies! No!"


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:55 AM
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much worse than a standard toilet

My son was completely baffled by the concept of "outhouse" when we came across one recently. It had just never occurred to him.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:57 AM
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What amazes me is that Slate felt that one ugly font was not enough, so they decided to use a handful of different ones.

The Atlantic is an example of a site that did a nice job with its blocky redesign. Slate looked at what they did and asked themselves "hey, how can we fuck that up?"


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 6:58 AM
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Having much lower quality content than The Atlantic wasn't enough for them?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:01 AM
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How do you manage to have your phone fall out of your shirt pocket into the toilet? Are you standing on your head or something?

I have dropped something much worse than a cell phone into something much worse than a standard toilet.

You nuked Manchester?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:04 AM
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161: Opiate suppositories into the filthiest toilet in Scotland?


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:05 AM
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170: warmer.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:06 AM
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155: but that still covers pretty much every conceivable "write about some thing that happened to you" scenario. Nothing involving holidays or food or family or sports or spending money or living situation.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:06 AM
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Nosflow's importing certain ideas about how a painting was made (which are notoriously unreliable empirically)

If it helps convey an impression of the painting, so what?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:06 AM
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172: Not to drag this on, but here are a few off the top of my head that might be better: write about an adult you admire (not specifying family/parents). Write about a time you solved a problem. Write about your favorite teacher/class in school. Write about a toy you wanted as a kid (rather than a toy you owned). Write about jealousy, fear, unfairness, competition (rather than sports), success, etc. I think the trick is to make the prompt very broad in scope.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:26 AM
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Write about a time you solved a problem.

I shut down the government for two weeks and saved America.


Posted by: Opinionated Ted Cruz | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:30 AM
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I just got another volunteer book-reviewing gig!

Also, guess what? I am going to see CONFLICT tonight!!!!!!!!!! Plus other anarcho-punk bands!


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:31 AM
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174: yeah, but all of those could produce responses that are (apparently) hurtful and offensive. If you say something like "write about an adult you admire", a lot of your students will write about parents. Etc.
(And I'm sure that "write about jealousy and unfairness" won't produce any responses that make anyone uncomfortable...)


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:35 AM
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174:

An adult that I admire is someone who sets a good example. They inspire me to be more like them. At first I thought that I would never be like them, but then they said that they had to learn how to be the way they are, and that I could too. I admired that because it meant I could be what I admired.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:38 AM
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The goal isn't to avoid making students uncomfortable, Ajay. Discomfort is fine. The goal is to avoid inadvertently making someone launch into a story about the time they were raped because they thought they were obligated to supply that story but really didn't want to. So you just need to provide prompts that give enough flexibility that they definitely don't feel like they were supposed to write about the horrifying trauma unless they want to.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:38 AM
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Discomfort is fine.

That explains the stupid desk-chair things.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:40 AM
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174: One thing I have learned is that solving a problem involves thinking through all the different possibilities. Sometimes you think a problem can't be solved - but then you have to think: what if it can? That is the way to solve a problem.

Some problems are complicated and people have been working on solving them for a long time. Like world peace. But I think that if someone tried hard enough, they could solve any problem they put their mind to.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:40 AM
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Benquo is practicing to become Miss America!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:44 AM
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180 is so right it's practically a Bircher.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 7:50 AM
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Those desk-chairs are insane. For some reason, the building I usually teach in is stocked with desk-chairs, where the desk portion is actually 8 1/2x11" in dimensions. As in, it only comes halfway across students' laps. It is absurd. You can't keep a notebook open and lay your pencil down. They have their books awkwardly in their laps. Why the fuck would you provide such an insufficient writing surface?

(I assume: to make it cheaper, and the person buying the desk-chairs never has to sit in one.)

Also: so many years of getting my hair pulled out by the bolt covers on those plastic chairs. Often painfully much hair, getting ripped out, because I didn't know any graceful way to sit there and untangle it, and the bell had just rung, and there was general chaos.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 8:18 AM
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I was there entirely to revel in your pain as you got up quickly while your hair was bound to the desk.


Posted by: General Chaos | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 8:21 AM
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Anyway, when I last took a class, the kids were trying to have a laptop and their notebook on the desk. It was awkward to watch. Also awkward was that the professor's stance was exactly like Daphne in the original Scooby-Doo.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 8:26 AM
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Oh god, that is me. Hands on hips, pelvis awkwardly thrust forward? Yep.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 8:27 AM
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I mean, hands on lower back/hips, rather. Thrusting that pelvis forward.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 8:28 AM
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Late, and I've only skimmed the thread, but I'd bet that the problem is that "pick a critical incident and describe it" is indicating to the students that they should bullshit in a way that shows that they are a person who has been changed for the better by their experiences, and because they haven't actually been changed for the better in a tidy narrative fashion (real life not being a story), and aren't good enough writers to superimpose a narrative on their experience (most people aren't), you're getting vagueness meant to show that the author is a good person who got a meaningful experience out of volunteering.

I mean, who goes around in real life talking about "critical incidents?" And if this is a typical volunteer program, there probably weren't any critical incidents. (One might think that's one thing that they're supposed to learn; solving social problems isn't a matter of having critical incidents where the music swells....)

Suggestions: if you have face time with them as a group -- just be blunt that you don't want the my-biggest-weakness-is-how-much-I-care bullshit response. If you don't, and you can, reformulate the question -- pretend you're writing an e-mail to a friend about something interesting that happened, or you're writing to the next group of volunteers about what they can expect to find.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 8:28 AM
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187, 188: I was going to write about this on the evaluation and tell her to just go own it ("wear purple"), but I figured she might not get it (I don't think she was born in the U.S.) and that she probably didn't need grief on her first semester teaching.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 8:33 AM
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Also, I was in over my head and lucky to pull out an A minus in the class.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 8:34 AM
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And A minus is the new C plus.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 8:39 AM
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Oh god, that is me. Hands on hips, pelvis awkwardly thrust forward? Yep.

And don't forget to roar. All great orators roar.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 8:43 AM
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Someone needs to do a study that demonstrates that desk-chairs reduce test scores by 0.37%. That will get them out of schools, right quick. Out of rich schools, anyway.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 8:48 AM
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A minus is the best possible grade. Its still an A, but you didn't have to work as hard as you would have to have gotten a full-fledged A.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 8:54 AM
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And don't forget to roar. All great orators roar.


NP: Well Peter Jones was then speaking when the whistle went, he gained an extra point, and others in the round as well. He's one ahead of Kenneth Williams but two behind our leader who is Clement Freud. Graeme Garden is trailing a little and Kenneth Williams will you begin the next round. The subject: the trivium. Would you tell us something about that in Just A Minute starting now.

KW: It's not very much heard of nowadays. I believe it comes from the medieval school of learning which divided the social arts so to speak into trivium and quadrivium. But what we are dealing with here is grammar, rhetoric and logic. A pity nowadays that public speakers are not well versed in these matters! I can well recall the time of my youth when I saw men who were orators of enormous stature and called hither! And I heard the great Aneurin Bevan and a heckler shouted at him, "we're not Labour! All are Conservative! What about Liberal?" And he said "I was never one to frown upon ambition". And they fell about laughing! Of course that was the period...

BUZZ

NP: Clement Freud has challenged with one and a half seconds to go.

CF: Why did they fall about laughing?

KW: He had that sort of timing. He was a brilliant speaker! Absolutely brilliant!

NP: So what was the challenge?

CF: There was no challenge, I just wanted to know.

NP: I'm disagreeing with Clement's challenge. You have one and a half seconds...

KW: Oh I don't want it back now! I've gone off the whole thing! Well you've got to get worked up haven't you, you know! Get the wheels going, the wheels!

NP: I must explain to the listeners he was so worked up before he nearly knocked Clement Freud in both eyes!

KW: Did I? Oh sorry!

NP: You may have guessed he was then trying to make up for it! Kenneth you have one and a half seconds on the trivium starting now.

KW: Logic of course is an essential ingredient...

WHISTLE


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 8:56 AM
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162: I presume there is some reason why she feels justified in exemplifying the stereotype of "useless husband who thinks looking after his own kids is 'babysitting' and a big favour". I suppose it's a nice deal if you can get away with it since the kids still love that parent but I hope I'm right in thinking it a setup that's gradually fading away for men and is vanishingly rare for women.


Posted by: emir | Link to this comment | 10-18-13 10:16 AM
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I object to letting supposed process claims be "empirical" when we describe paintings, (not on any particular solid grounds, but rather because) they are unreliable between similar observers, they are often false (and especially as artist often attempt to trick the viewer), and they rely so heavily on cultural understandings of picture making that they are basically meaningless across surprisingly small cultural gulfs.

Also worth noting that ekphrasis almost never actually gives the reader any empirical sense data. I mean, I guess I could describe any painting using simple empirical facts in the way the instructor wants, but it's either parodic (as Ajay does) or else pathological, because I just don't think that it's a way of looking at pictures that's open to us at this point.

(A response so late as to be barely be a response!)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 10-21-13 6:34 AM
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Oh man I have dropped something much worse than a cell phone into something much worse than a standard toilet.

Zardoz fell in the portapotty!


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 10-21-13 7:13 AM
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197: From my side, it's so that if I'm going to end up a single parent anyway, I've had practice. I know some of what's going on with her but not all and I'm not being terribly kind and supportive about it, but on the other hand I'm busy dealing with plenty of other shit.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10-21-13 7:18 AM
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I mean, I guess I could describe any painting using simple empirical facts in the way the instructor wants, ... I just don't think that it's a way of looking at pictures that's open to us at this point.

I don't understand this at all. I mean, I can see saying that it doesn't communicate what's important about a painting, or that no one who cared about art would talk about a painting like that, or something of the sort. But what does it mean to say that looking at a painting as a matter of direct sense impressions, and communicating those in whatever shorthand (like nosflow's description that included speculation about how certain visual effects were achieved, which whether right or wrong about the method, was a plausible way of communicating what the painting looked like) seems most effective, isn't "open to us"? How could it not be?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-21-13 8:19 AM
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Because the step to shorthand is too fraught.

In particular, I think most paintings are only legible from within a culture, and rely so heavily on conventions and ways of looking, that to attempt to simply record sense impressions is pretty much impossible.

I mean, isn't Ajay's description of a canvas the best, most empirical one given? (And, certainly, it's the most like a condition report, which is a very empirical and data driven form of looking at and recording art objects.) But we'd all agree it's either parodic or pathologic as a response to the instructor's question, no?


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 10-21-13 3:25 PM
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No, it's not, because it, as a joke, deliberately avoids mentioning anything about the painting that would distinguish it from most other paintings -- that is, the particular arrangement of colors on the front surface. It's a description that would only be useful for distinguishing paintings from non-paintings, not one painting from another.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-21-13 3:28 PM
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No, I don't think that's right --- reread Ajay's description: it's a 4' by 2' canvas, on an ash stretcher, and covered in thick oil paint, apparently applied by several brushes, that's bears marks indicating it's been accessioned into an institution at some point. That narrows it down pretty specifically, no?


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 10-21-13 3:34 PM
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I mean, it's a very poor description for distinguishing any work in a series from another, or any two 4' by 2' (thick) oil on canvas on ash stretcher works, but those are pretty unusual characteristics for a painting to have, when you consider it.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 10-21-13 3:36 PM
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I think most paintings are only legible from within a culture, and rely so heavily on conventions and ways of looking

I suppose it all depends on how far you want to take the quoted words above. If you're looking for a type of description that works for people from a cultural background that doesn't share our concept of 'painting' at all, then ajay's description works fine. ("Wonder what it is? Not a very good drum -- some sort of portable groundcover/table thingie?")

For anyone who would recognize a painting as such, though, the colors and textures on the front side are the primarily important aspect of it, and ajay's description is obviously a joke in that it avoids that aspect entirely.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-21-13 3:43 PM
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I don't know. Of all the descriptions given here, Ajay's is the most like an account of a painting that would allow me to unambiguously identify a painting in a collection. (And it is most like the descriptions of paintings made by professionals attempting to empirically document art works.) It's certainly the one which corresponds to the fewest paintings.

It's not a very good account of a painting, if you want to understand the painting's importance or context. But importance or context aren't empirical qualities of the painting.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 10-21-13 3:54 PM
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Of all the descriptions given here, Ajay's is the most like an account of a painting that would allow me to unambiguously identify a painting in a collection

Unlikely -- in any given collection, paintings are probably fairly likely to be similar to each other in materials, likelihood of having informative stickers on the back, and so on. And you'd need a fair amount of knowledge to, e.g., identify ash rather than another wood, oil rather than another type of paint, and so on. You might get lucky with the dimensions being unique, but you'd need that luck.

And it is most like the descriptions of paintings made by professionals attempting to empirically document art works.

Bullshit, if you're referring to the informational content rather than to the tone.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-21-13 4:08 PM
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It's not a very good account of a painting, if you want to understand the painting's importance or context. But importance or context aren't empirical qualities of the painting.

And of course you're, here, conflating the empirical qualities of a painting most important to understanding its importance or context -- that is, the arrangement of colors on the front side of the canvas -- with the actual importance and context of the painting, which are, as you suggest, not actually themselves empirical qualities.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-21-13 4:11 PM
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I don't think I agree. Remember, we're being empirical, right? And it's quite easy (empirically) to distinguish oil from other kinds of paint, and likewise ash from pine. And definitely the dimensions of a work are reasonably distinctive, pre-standardisation.

To take, as a kind of rough sample, Newton's European Painting and Sculpture, Stangos' Concepts of Modern Art and Lucie-Smith on Eroticism, I'd say that Ajay's information (dimensions, media, support, plus some other details) would probably narrow it down to two or three works out of the hundreds illustrated in those books. I'd struggle to give a similarly narrow specification just describing the images on the canvas, especially without resorting to pretty clearly non-empirical tricks (it is a Braque, or whatever.)

Ajay's description really is a lot like a condition report, which is a common kind of empirical account of an art work. In fact, probably the most common kind of empirical writing about art, I'd guess.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 10-21-13 5:25 PM
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