The Outlier Fallacy: Keeping Our Accusatory Gaze on Individuals, and Not Systemic Inequity

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and a celebrity—both of which speak to his exceptional talents, especially in the context of being a black man in the U.S.

In many ways, Tyson is the anti-Sheldon (the fictional nerd genius of The Big Bang Theory), and his celebrity as a scientist serves as a powerful model against corrosive racist stereotypes.

I am but a redneck with a doctorate (EdD) that most in the hard sciences, like Tyson, would brush aside, and my scholarship and public work as a social scientist also land me squarely well below the credibility bar against Tyson’s stature as a hard scientist and celebrity.

None the less, I must offer a friendly rebuttal to Tyson on a recent Tweet:

To which I replied:

Despite his status as an astrophysicist, his wealth of knowledge as a scientist, Tyson’s celebrity, I fear (much as is the case with Oprah), has clouded his better sensibilities.

The celebrity class in the U.S. often uses that celebrity to hold forth well beyond their areas of expertise (see as the king of this practice, Bill Gates). And Tyson very well could have good intentions here, and I concede he may not deserve being held liable for the codes of his Tweet (How many read “broken childhoods” as code for “living in poverty” and/or “single-black-parent home”?)

Tyson’s public is rife with those who cling to successful blacks who reinforce their racism: OJ Simpson, Ben Carson, Bill Cosby, Clarence Thomas, Charles Barkley, to name a few.

And so Tyson is holding forth as a Great American Winner, and winners often believe that the primary cause of their success is in their own character and effort; winners, in other words, are apt not to consider the role of the rules in their winning—notably rarely considering that the rules could be unfairly tilted in their favor.

So there are two fundamental flaws in Tyson’s Tweet: First is the implication that in the U.S. we are not already focusing on “those who succeed in spite”; and second, “those who succeed in spite” are outliers, and thus, both in the hard sciences and the social sciences more problematic than the potential source of understanding human behavior.

Tyson’s suggestion is trapped within the rugged individualism/bootstrap myths of the U.S. and then speaks to the same—but coming from Tyson, his argument feeds some nasty racial and racist narratives as well (If only we could inculcate in all blacks the character and effort that the black winners [outliers] have…).

People who succeed have character traits that trump people who fail—goes the narrative. And thus, all we need to do is fix those people who do not succeed.

This outlier fallacy fails as science, but it also keeps the accusatory gaze on individuals. While Tyson suggests we focus on winners instead of losers, either option is flawed in that it allows systemic forces to be ignored even though systemic forces (not individual qualities) are often the primary cause of outcomes.

Let’s recalibrate Tyson’s Tweet just a bit to see the problem: Why don’t we study black men who do not find themselves in the criminal justice system instead of studying black men who are incarcerated to understand criminalization?

This proposal, of course, puts the gaze entirely on black men, and fails to recognize the first level problem—the criminal justice and policing systems in the U.S. are significantly inequitable for black Americans.

If our goal is equity and social justice for people trapped in poverty and for so-called racial minorities in the U.S., as well as seeking ways to support children better who are living broken childhoods, Tyson’s musing ignores how we already are failing both goals and promotes an outlier fallacy driven by the white gaze, something fostered among the winners who cannot allow themselves to question the rules that created their winning.

Especially in this time of Trump, seeking equity and justice cannot afford a celebrity class blinded by its celebrity. “Those who succeed” and “those who don’t succeed” are not the sources of where our gaze should be; those are outcomes driven by a game that is rigged.

Let’s reconsider the rules of that game and not the participants, whether they succeed or not.

Advertisements

NEW: Comic Connections: Reflecting on Women in Popular Culture

Comic Connections: Reflecting on Women in Popular Culture

Sandra Eckard, editor

From Publisher Website:

With the popularity of comic adaptations on television and at the movies, these current topics can be a great way to engage students by bringing characters and stories they connect with into the classroom to help them build the skills that they need to be successful. Comic Connections: Reflecting on Women in Popular Culture is designed to help teachers from middle school through college find exciting new strategies that they can use right away as part of their curricular goals. Each chapter has three pieces: comic relevance, classroom connections, and concluding thoughts; this format allows a reader to pick-and-choose where to start. Some readers might want to delve into the history of a comic to better understand characters and their usefulness, while other readers might want to pick up an activity, presentation, or project that they can fold into that day’s lesson. This volume in Comic Connections series focuses on female characters—Wonder Woman, Peggy Carter, and Lois Lane, to name a few—with each chapter deconstructing a specific character to help students engage in meaningful conversations, writing projects, and other activities that will complement and enhance their literacy skills.

See my chapter:

Wonder Woman: Reading and Teaching Feminism with an Amazonian Princess in an Era of Jessica Jones, P. L. Thomas

[Sample excerpt from Classroom Connections section]

Women Superhero Costumes and Sexism in Student Dress Codes

“The original Wonder Woman comics included page after page of bondage imagery, scads of cross-dressing villains, and really remarkably unrepressed lesbian eroticism[i],” explains Noah Berlatsky, examining The New 52 reboot of Wonder Woman, adding: “The best Azzarello/Chiang can do, in contrast, is to have their Amazons pose like Playboy models while Eros makes sophomoric cracks about the quest for seminal mortal vessels.”[ii] The tension between the potential for a woman superhero to confront and change corrosive social norms such as sexism, misogyny, toxic masculinity, and objectifying/sexualizing women and the too-often reality of pop culture to reflect and reinforce those norms is throughout Wonder Woman, including how she is physically depicted as a superhero.

While comic books and graphic novels can be effective in classes as ways to reach beyond traditional texts, using Wonder Woman to lead into topics directly relevant to students is also recommended. Consider the controversial issue of dress codes for students as that is dramatized in depictions of Diana Prince and Wonder Woman.

In The New 52 rebooting of Wonder Woman, many have confronted the sexualizing of Wonder Woman in her costume and poses.[iii] These debates about objectification of females as well as slut shaming and body shaming can be introduced through Wonder Woman (Wonder Woman: Blood and the Meredith and David Finch runs before Rebirth), and then, students can research and debate the gender bias often found in school dress codes. Some resources for the latter include:

  • Shame: A Documentary on School Dress Code[iv]. This is a documentary by a 17-year-old student, available on YouTube. This could be a text in this unit or a model for documentaries created by students.
  • “Why School Dress Codes Are Sexist,” Li Zhou (The Atlantic).[v] This is a well-written work of journalism that covers the topic of sexism in dress codes well and serves as a strong model for public writing that uses hyperlinks as citation.
  • “Sexualization, Sex Discrimination, and Public School Dress Codes,” Meredith J. Harbach.[vi] Here, students can examine a scholarly approach to the issues of sexism and dress codes.
  • “The Unspoken Messages of Dress Codes: Uncovering Bias and Power,” Rosalind Wiseman (Anti-Defamation League).[vii] A curriculum resource and excellent overview, this can serve as a guideline for students lobbying for changes to dress codes and/or writing alternative codes that avoid bias.
  • “Baby Woman,” Emily Ratajkowski (Lenny).[viii] Ratajkowski is a contemporary celebrity, model and actress, who takes a strong public position as a feminist, despite her association with provocative and sexualized media (controversial music videos and TV commercials). Her personal narrative is a strong model of the genre, but it also complicates views of feminism and female sexuality as well as objectification.

Using the texts above, students can write persuasive essays, cited essays, and new dress codes; they can participate in formal or informal debates; and they can develop projects around identifying how popular media and culture objectify and shame women based on physical appearance and clothing. A unit on dress code linked to Wonder Woman is a provocative and rich unit that challenges students on many levels.

Finally, in this section on teaching through Wonder Woman, I am listing some additional resources for other units of study:

  • Robert Jones Jr., “Bumbling: DC Super Hero Girls and the White Racial Imagination,” The Middle Spaces.[ix]
  • Eliana Dockterman, “Wonder Woman Breaks Through,” Time.[x]
  • Christopher J. Hayton, “Evolving Sub-Texts in the Visual Exploitation of the Female Form: Good Girl and Bad Girl Comic Art Pre- and Post-Second Wave Feminism,” ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies 4 (2014), www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v7_4/hayton/
  • Charlotte E. Howell, “‘Tricky’ Connotations: Wonder Woman as DC’s Brand Disruptor,” Cinema Journal.[xi]
  • Mitra C. Emad, “Reading Wonder Woman’s Body: Mythologies of Gender and Nation,” The Journal of Popular Culture.[xii]

Kelli E. Stanley, “‘Suffering Sappho!’: Wonder Woman and the (Re)Invention of the Feminine Ideal,” Helios.[xiii]

[i] Noah Berlatsky, “Comic Books Have Always Been Gay,” Slate, June 1, 2012, accessed February 10, 2017, http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2012/06/01/gay_comic_books_have_been_around_since_the_birth_of_wonder_woman.html

[ii] Berlatsky, “Wonder Woman’s Violent, Man-Pandering Second Act.”

[iii] Ryan, “Wonder Woman Takes a Big Step Back” and Berlatsky, “Wonder Woman’s Violent, Man-Pandering Second Act.”

[iv] Maggie Sunseri, Shame: A Documentary on School Dress Codes, YouTube, may 29, 2015, accessed February 10, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDgAZO_5U_U

[v] Li Zhou, “Why School Dress Codes Are Sexist,” The Atlantic, October 20, 2015, accessed February 10, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/10/school-dress-codes-are-problematic/410962/

[vi] Meredith Johnson Harbach, “Sexualization, Sex Discrimination, and Public School Dress Codes,” 50 U. Rich. L. Rev. 1039 (2016), access February 10, 2017, http://scholarship.richmond.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2275&context=law-faculty-publications

[vii] Rosalind Wiseman, “The Unspoken Messages of Dress Codes: Uncovering Bias and Power,” Anti-Defamation League, September 2014, accessed February 10, 2017, http://www.adl.org/education-outreach/curriculum-resources/c/the-unspoken-language-of-bias-and-power.html

[viii] Emily Ratajkowski, “Baby Woman,” Lenny, February 16, 2016, accessed February 2, 2017, http://www.lennyletter.com/life/a265/baby-woman-emily-ratajkowski/

[ix] Robert Jones Jr., “Bumbling: DC Super Hero Girls and the White Racial Imagination,” The Middle Spaces, May 10, 2016, accessed February 2, 2017, https://themiddlespaces.com/2016/05/10/bumbling-dc-super-hero-girls/

[x] Eliana Dockterman, “Wonder Woman Breaks Through,” Time, December 26, 2016–January 2, 2017.

[xi] Charlotte E. Howell, “‘Tricky’ Connotations: Wonder Woman as DC’s Brand Disruptor,” Cinema Journal 55.1 (2015, Fall), DOI: 10.1353/cj.2015.0072.

[xii] Mitra C. Emad, “Reading Wonder Woman’s Body: Mythologies of Gender and Nation,” The Journal of Popular Culture 39.6 (2006).

[xiii] Kelli E. Stanley, “‘Suffering Sappho!’: Wonder Woman and the (Re)Invention of the Feminine Ideal,” Helios 32.2 (2005).

Models, Mentor Texts, and (More) Resisting Rubrics

In the discussion spurred by Ken Lindblom’s adding “interesting to read” to his writing rubrics, Tim Ogburn posed on the soon-to-be retired Teaching and Learning forum at NCTE’s Connected Community: “So, along with rubrics (or not), I wonder how folks use models (or not)?”

Ogburn’s question coincided with my first offering of an upper-level writing/research course at my university: Scholarly Reading and Writing in Education. After the first class meeting, I have been revising and adding to the course guidelines and materials.

Part of that work has been looking carefully at how I can use and expand my materials from my first-year writing seminar, which I have taught in various forms for about a decade now.

To answer Ogburn directly, I want to admit that my teaching writing practices are significantly grounded in using models and mentor texts. But here’s the caveat: My experience and the research base both show that using models is only a weak strategy when teaching writing.

For one example of research, Writing Next ranks using models as the tenth out of eleven effective strategies:

Study of Models (Effect Size = 0.25)

The study of models provides adolescents with good models for each type of writing that is the focus of instruction. Students are encouraged to analyze these examples and to emulate the critical elements, patterns, and forms embodied in the models in their own writing.The effects for all six studies reviewed were positive, though small. It was not possible to draw separate conclusions for low-achieving writers, as none of the studies specifically addressed this population.

None the less, I incorporate models and mentor texts while always seeking ways to increase their effectiveness.

Here, then, is how I use models for my four essay assignments in my first year writing seminar:

Essay Requirements

Essay 1: See our shared prompt HERE.

Examples of personal narratives:

Everybody’s Somebody’s Baby, Barbara Kingsolver

Letter to My Son, Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Secret Lives of Inner-City Black Males, Ta-Nehisi Coates

They Can’t Turn Back, James Baldwin

Essay 2: Compose and draft an essay of about 1250-1500 words in blog/online format (see examples below) that offers an expository or argumentative mode for a general public audience from the perspective of expertise. Incorporate images, video, or other media.

SAMPLE submission format.

Examples:

Should We Marvel at a Black Captain America?

[See scholarly version: Can Superhero Comics Defeat Racism?]

There is no debate about hitting children – it’s just wrong

Corporations Are Behind The Common Core State Standards — And That’s Why They’ll Never Work

Gaiman’s Mythical Folding of Childhood into Adulthood

Essay 3: Compose and draft a substantially cited essay of about 4-6 double-spaced pages that presents a discipline-based examination of a topic or poses a discipline-based argument. Citations must conform to APA style guidelines. [See “Writing for Specific Fields.”]

Examples:

Properly formatted APA sample essay

Universal Public Education—Our (Contradictory) Missions

Of Rocks and Hard Places—The Challenge of Maxine Greene ’s Mystification in Teacher Education

Essay 4: TBD in a conference

And then, how I have adapted that approach in an upper-level writing/research course (as embedded, noted bellow in red, in submission guidelines):

Annotated bibliographies: Submit annotated bibliographies in both the initial and final submissions (all drafts should be complete and in proper format, even when submitting “rough” or initial drafts) as Word files and attach to email with “annotated bibliographies” in the subject line. See some guidelines and a sample annotated bibliography here (note APA version). Submit each annotated bibliography as a separate Word file, and format in Times New Roman font, 12 pt., double space, with 1″ margins. Each file should be named “lastname AB#.docx” (each file numbered from 1 through 8 or 10).

Research project essay: Submit research project cited essay in both the initial and final submissions (all drafts should be complete and in proper format, even when submitting “rough” or initial drafts) as Word files and attach to email with “research project essay” in the subject line. See APA guidelines here and a sample APA essay here. Submit essay as a Word file, and format in Times New Roman font, 12 pt., double space, with 1″ margins. Each file should be named “lastname essay.docx” (as you revise and resubmit, add RW, RW2, RW3, etc., to the file name to designate multiple drafts).

Public commentary: Submit your public commentary in both the initial and final submissions (all drafts should be complete and in proper format, even when submitting “rough” or initial drafts) as Word files and attach to email with “public commentary” in the subject line. See a sample public commentary here. Submit essay as a Word file, and format in Times New Roman font, 12 pt., single space, with 1″ margins. Each file should be named “lastname OpEd.docx” (as you revise and resubmit, add RW, RW2, RW3, etc., to the file name to designate multiple drafts).

Finally, what, then, is the case for models and mentor texts—especially as ways to resist rubrics?

  • Authentic (published) models and mentor texts are powerful alternatives to templates and artificial writing forms such as five-paragraph essays and anchor texts for standardized testing.
  • Models and mentor texts are rich and engaging materials for reading like a writer and other critical reading activities, and thus, offer far more than simply teaching writing.
  • If resisting and not outright rejecting rubrics, teachers and students can mine models and mentor texts in order to develop rubrics and/or guiding questions for composing together.
  • Models and mentor texts are essential for developing genre awareness in students as well as fostering in students a greater understanding of writer purpose, audience, writing forms, conventional expectations (grammar, mechanics, and usage), etc.

As I continue to witness, teaching writing is a journey, and with that concession, using models and mentor texts to teach writing is an excellent example of how we must be neither a slave to nor ignorant of the research base and our own practiced experiences with methods. Grounding the teaching of writing in models and mentor texts proves to be both essential and in some ways inadequate, leaving us with “miles to go before [we] sleep.”

The Oprah Problem (Nothing New)

As is common in the U.S., there has been much ado about Oprah and all the black-clothed solidarity at the Golden Globes.

Many are all atwitter at celebrity finger wagging at long-entrenched sexism and racism among, well, celebrities. You see, that’s all we have anymore in the U.S. since we have formally elected a reality-hack as president (trace this back to an entire country acting as if Ronald Reagan, hack actor, was a credible political leader, some sort of conservative messiah).

This sort of nonsense is not anything new, and I would note the fawning over Princess Diana as at least a typical example of how we canonize the glamorous in hollow and misguided ways.

Oprah Winfrey’s award and speech have fueled the smoldering notion that she should run for president.

In the context of who has dominated political leadership in the U.S. throughout history (almost entirely constituted by average but privileged white men who have avoided being held accountable for their moral and ethical flaws as well as outright horrible behavior as human beings), let’s note upfront that Oprah as a highly successful black woman exceeds the ridiculously low standards for who can be a political leader—even president—in the U.S.

On a very basic level, the U.S. has elected to high and even the highest political offices Reagan, Al Franken, Jesse Ventura, Donald Trump, and Arnold Schwarzenegger; therefore, anyone who wants to make a sweeping claim that Oprah somehow falls below that line cannot stand on anything other than the thinnest (and possibly racist and/or sexist) ice.

Period.

Oprah could be the Democrats’ Reagan, and to be honest, in terms of being president, would likely do a better job than Reagan.

But a related issue is the claim that Oprah is somehow a progressive savior, and that is also different but incredibly thin ice.

In the tradition of Barack Obama (but not Clarence Thomas, for example), Oprah has benefitted from and then perpetuated some really corrosive ideologies in the U.S. that ultimately hurt our pursuit (let’s call it a progressive pursuit for lack of a better word) of equity for women and racial (so-called) minorities.

Oprah has also used her celebrity to create and bolster some truly awful spin-off celebrities—Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil. I mean truly awful hucksters.

In short, while as I note above, Oprah is qualified for all political offices in the U.S. in terms of who we have routinely elected, the Oprah problem is then not about her qualifications but how progressives embrace, or not, her.

Again, although some very credible progressive gains were made under Obama, he is not “leftist,” and is only marginally progressive (using the deeply skewed parameters of the significantly right-leaning U.S. scale for ideology), and Oprah also fits that description.

I have no doubt she would be a powerful symbolic candidate for women and people of color, and she would, like Obama, very possibly drive some progressive policies and offer an occasional bully pulpit for progressive and equitable public discourse.

But Oprah as progressive? Oprah as radical? Those are not her selling points.

Let me offer a few counter-arguments along those lines:

The Oprah problem is a subset of the exact issues the rich and famous were wagging their fingers at during the Golden Globes—in other words, what are progressives and the authentic left to do in a country that has historically and continually elevated the average white man to excessive wealth, celebrity, and power even as those average white men have behaved as abusive and rapacious cowards and monsters?

My thoughts for now are that we on the left must temper our rush to discredit Oprah while making our case for genuine progressive policies (and progressive leaders who practice) and promote equity and justice for all.

If the arc of the moral universe does in fact bend toward justice, as Martin Luther King Jr. implored, at the very least, Oprah as president would provide a recalibration needed after the Trump-led assault on the tepid Obama progressive agenda, and gains.

I see no hope that mainstream politics in the U.S. has the capacity for anything truly revolutionary (I mean we actually touted Bernie Sanders as a socialist) so we must be careful about how we respond to Oprah as presidential candidate—careful that we all on the left do not become as shallow and hypocritical as the celebrities peacocking at the Golden Globes, in fact.

Ken Lindblom’s “Is Interesting to Read” and the Rubric Dilemma Redux

At the 2003 National Council of Teachers of English annual conference in San Francisco, I met Ken Lindblom, then a column editor for English Journal and later an outstanding editor for the same.

Ken is among an important nucleus of NCTE colleagues and friends who have enriched my professional life in ways I can never repay; I have served as a column editor for EJ under two different tenures of editors and as the Council Historian just after the centennial along with being awarded the 2013 George Orwell Award—just to name some of the personal accomplishments that I cherish as examples of the collegiality and kindness found in the NCTE community of teachers and scholars.

So Ken’s The Rubric Criterion That Changed Everything has put me in a predicament since I value Ken as one of my go-to thinkers on teaching writing but I also have a long and firm stance against grades, tests, and rubrics (see my chapter on de-grading writing instruction).

The central point addressed by Ken captures exactly why his post inspires me and gives me pause:

Once I was reading a stack of papers, and I remember thinking, “Man, I wish these papers were more interesting!” Then it hit me: Students will work on what’s listed on a rubric. In my next paper assignment, I added this to the rubric: “Is Interesting to Read.”

Rubrics—as Maja Wilson and Alfie Kohn deconstruct—often become the chore to fulfill when students write, and while they can provide structure and clarity in grading for both students and teachers, rubrics can often be nightmares for those same teachers when student writing flounders but fulfills the rubric or soars in ways that the rubric never addresses.

Instead of rubrics, then, I offer students guiding questions, and do agree that students need structure (see these concepts and questions [1] grounded in developing genre awareness).

Regardless of using rubrics or guiding question, I want to stress that raising student awareness of being interesting is both powerful and essential. That awareness, however, must be fostered by examining with students the many ways in which writers accomplish being interesting.

First, we must highlight that embedded in “Is Interesting to Read” is a focus on audience. In my first-year writing seminars, I stress that I want students to stop writing for me, and to develop essays with clear and real audiences in mind. This is part of my on-going goal of encouraging students to stop thinking as students and to start thinking as writers.

Some of the concrete strategies that we focus on that contribute to being interesting as a writer include the following:

  • Creating openings, instead of writing mechanistic introductions, that are compelling first and then focus the reader on the central purpose of the essay. We do several reading like a writer activities (here and here) throughout the semester, but focus on openings in the first few weeks.
  • Expanding tone beyond the faux academic pose of objectivity, and acknowledging the power of humor. Notably in our reading of Kingsolver, for example, students notice that essays are often humorous (especially in the opening), and thus, more interesting.
  • Emphasizing the power of narrative (and description) as a mode that creates interest. Drawing on Style, we think about nonfiction essays in terms of fiction—character, plot, and setting. Inherent in narrative, as well, is the importance of details (see Flannery O’Connor).
  • Allowing drafting to be an act of discovery, brainstorming. Another key aspect of resisting the traditional introduction/thesis approach is helping students recognize that the act of drafting often leads writers to their purpose; in other words, drafting as discovery opens the door to finding the interesting instead of trying to fulfill the obligation of a predetermined thesis.
  • Reimagining the essay form not as an introduction/thesis, body, and conclusion but as a cohesive form better served by framing—developing a few opening and closing paragraphs that share a story, detail, or compelling element that both engages and compels the reader (thus, interesting).

I remain less optimistic than Ken that rubrics can serve our goal to foster students as writers who are aware of their audience and committed to being interesting. I do believe, however, seeking ways to encourage specific strategies for being interesting as a writer is achievable, but it is also essential, as Ken argues, not simply something extra.


[1] Prompt Analysis for Genre Awareness*

To the students: As you prepare to write, revise, and edit, consider these questions, particularly if you are given a writing task in your academic classroom:

[Note: If you cannot answer these questions from the task you have been given, how do you find out the answers?]

  1. GENRE NAME: What is this text called (its genre name)? What do you already think you know about what a text from this genre looks and ‘sounds’ like? For example, how should the text be organized? What kind of language do you need to use?
  1. PURPOSE: What are you supposed to DO as a writer when completing this task? Are you asked to make an argument? To inform? To describe or list?
  1. CONTEXT: If you are writing this task in, or for, a classroom, what do you know about the context? What does the discipline require for a text? Under what conditions will you be writing? For example, are you writing a timed, in-class response?
  1. WRITER’S ROLE: Who are you supposed to BE in this prompt? A knowledgeable student? Someone else?
  1. AUDIENCE: Is your audience specified? If it is your instructor, what are his or her expectations and interests? What goals for students does the instructor have?
  1. CONTENT: What are you supposed to write about? Where do you find this content? In your textbook? In lectures? Are you supposed to relate what you have heard or read in some way?
  1. SOURCES: What, and how many, sources are you supposed to draw from to write your text? Have the sources been provided in the class? Are you supposed to look elsewhere? Are the sources primary or secondary?
  1. OTHER SPECIFICATIONS: What else do you know about the requirements for this text? How long should it be? What referencing style (MLA, APA) should you use? What font type?
  1. ASSESSMENT: How will your paper be graded? What does the instructor believe is central to a good response? How do you know? If you don’t know, how can you find out?
  1. MAKING THE TEXT YOUR OWN: What about the paper you write can be negotiated with the instructor? Can you negotiate the topic? The types of sources used? The text structure? If you can negotiate your assignment, it might be much more interesting to you.

* Created and published in Johns, A. M. (2008). Genre awareness for the novice academic student: An on-going questLanguage Teaching, 41(2), 237-252.

Research and Miscellaneous Roundup

Selective Exposure to Misinformation: Evidence from the consumption of fake news during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Andrew Guess, Brendan Nyhan, and Jason Reifler

Abstract

Though some warnings about online “echo chambers” have been hyperbolic, tendencies toward selective exposure to politically congenial content are likely to extend to misinformation and to be exacerbated by social media platforms. We test this prediction using data on the factually dubious articles known as “fake news.” Using unique data combining survey responses with individual-level web traffic histories, we estimate that approximately 1 in 4 Americans visited a fake news website from October 7-November 14, 2016. Trump supporters visited the most fake news websites, which were overwhelmingly pro-Trump. However, fake news consumption was heavily concentrated among a small group — almost 6 in 10 visits to fake news websites came from the 10% of people with the most conservative online information diets. We also find that Facebook was a key vector of exposure to fake news and that fact-checks of fake news almost never reached its consumers.

Educational opportunity in early and middle childhood: Variation by place and age, Sean F. Reardon

Abstract

I use standardized test scores from roughly 45 million students to describe the temporal structure of educational opportunity in over 11,000 school districts—almost every district in the US. For each school district, I construct two measures: the average academic performance of students in grade 3 and the within-cohort growth in test scores from grade 3 to 8. I argue that third grade average test scores can be thought of as measures of the average extent of educational opportunities available to students in a community prior to age 9. Growth rates in average scores from grade 3 to 8 can be thought of as reflecting educational opportunities available to children in a school district between the ages of 9 and 14.

I document considerable variation among school districts in both average third grade scores and test score growth rates. Importantly, the two measures are uncorrelated, indicating that the characteristics of communities that provide high levels of early childhood educational opportunity are not the same as those that provide high opportunities for growth from third to eighth grade. This suggests that the role of schools in shaping educational opportunity varies across school districts. Moreover, the variation among districts in the two temporal opportunity dimensions implies that strategies to improve educational opportunity may need to target different age groups in different places. One additional implication of the low correlation between growth rates and average third grade scores is that measures of average test scores are likely very poor measures of school effectiveness. The growth measure I construct does not isolate the contribution of schools to children’s academic skills, but is likely closer to a measure of school effectiveness than are measures of average test scores.

Tax Bill Would Increase Abuse of Charitable Giving Deduction, with Private K-12 Schools as the Biggest Winners, Carl Davis

From Executive Summary

In its rush to pass a major rewrite of the tax code before year’s end, Congress appears likely to enact a “tax reform” that creates, or expands, a significant number of tax loopholes. One such loophole would reward some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals with a strategy for padding their own bank accounts by “donating” to support private K-12 schools. While a similar loophole exists under current law, its size and scope would be dramatically expanded by the legislation working its way through Congress.2 This report details how, as an indirect result of capping the deduction for state income taxes paid, the bill expected to emerge from the House-Senate Conference Committee would enlarge a loophole being abused by taxpayers who steer money into private K-12 school voucher funds. This loophole is available in 10 states: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia.

The Sound of White Silence, @michaelharriot

White is a blank space.

It is the unwritten adjective that filled the infinite and simultaneously minuscule void between “all” and “men” when our founding fathers so eloquently declared their independence. The word “white” is not included in the Constitution, but it is understood by all to be the unmentioned modifier in “we the people.” It is our national equivalent to the aphonic letter “e.” We could always see it, but as a country we agreed to adhere to the first rule of American phonetics:

The “white” is silent.

The Nature and Aim of Fiction, Flannery O’Connor

People have a habit of saying, “What is the theme of your story?” and they expect you to give them a statement: “The theme of my story is the economic pressure of the machine on the middle class”—or some such absurdity. And when they’ve got a statement like that, they go off happy and feel it is no longer necessary to read the story.

Some people have the notion that you read the story and then climb out of it into the meaning, but for the fiction writer himself the whole story is the meaning, because it is an experience, not an abstraction.