Friday, March 30, 2012

Ruminating on Tense

You must understand that I see language as being almost synonymous with beauty. You may enjoy paintings, sculptures, music, dance and other forms of artistic expression. While it is not considered odd in our culture to be emotionally moved by these things it may seem odd to some that I find the study of languages to be an extremely moving experience. When I am learning a grammatical rule in any language it is difficult and yet so rewarding to master it. So although you may not see the following as much more than boring tripe about grammar stuff, I see it as an attempt at describing indescribable art and complexity.

How many main verb tenses are there in English? Most of us would answer that there are three, past, present, and future. In my grammar class, however, we were told that in reality there are technically only two tenses i.e. past and present. The reason for this being that in order to form the past and present the verb changes form. In order to form the future we simply add a modal to the present:

Present: I jump
Past: I jumped
Future: I [will or shall] jump

It is an interesting idea. Technically, we do not have a future tense. Now I was satisfied enough after hearing this. I thought it was interesting. Then in my Arabic class I was learning the future tense and I realized that in spite of all the differences between Arabic and English they had this principle in common. In both the past and present verb tenses the verb changes form. The present simply requires the addition of a modal to convert to future tense. Here is the verb "to study" (keep in mind arabic is read from right to left):

(I study)   Present:          انا ادرس 
(I studied)       Past:          انا درست
(I will study)    Future:  انا سوف ادرس

For the sake of not being misleading or incorrect, the past and future conjugations above are not complete sentences. In Arabic to be grammatically correct you need to specify when something happened. For example, "I studied yesterday" or "I will study tomorrow."

This realization made me happy because the similarities between Arabic and English are few and far between. So a grammatical rule that I understood from my first language was handy. But then I remembered another language that I studied a while back that has an even more intriguing system of verb conjugation. That language is, Haitian Creole. This language is interesting because when conjugating between the past, present, and future tenses, the verb does not change form. For example take the word "jwe" which means "to play" (jway; the j is pronounced as in the medial sound in meaSure).

Present: Mwen jwe.        (I play)
Past: Mwen te jwe.         (I played)
Future: Mwen va jwe.    (I will play)

Now it is also interesting to notice that there is a modal for both future and past in Haitian Creole. Another interesting thing is that in English the verb changes form depending on whom the verb is describing. This is not the case in Haitian Creole:

Mwen jwe.   (I play)
Ou jwe.        (You play)
Li jwe.         (It plays)

There is no difference in conjugation for the third person as there is in English. This unchanging verb form makes learning conjugation in Haitian Creole extremely easy compared to other languages that are much more complex.

Ruminating on Tebow

I am interested in what people think of this exchange between Smith and Bayless about Tim Tebow and his faith, temptation and distractions. Watch the discussion (if you aren't a sports person this talk has nothing to do with sports):

After watching the discussion I am just curious about what people think of Smith's criticism. Tebow is known for his convictions about abstinence, not getting drunk, or doing drugs. Smith argues that Tebow is making a mistake by being in a city like New York City where there will be temptations for Tebow to compromise on his beliefs. I am interested in what people think about this situation and about Tebow in general.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ruminating on Blue Like Jazz

I have had to write so many academic papers that I think I will take it easy and post about Blue Like Jazz the movie. First, it comes out on April 13. Be sure that you get a chance to see it. It is based on the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. Although Miller is a Christian, the movie has been the focus of some attacks by mainstream Christians because this movie is, well, like a real movie. It doesn't fit into the typical "Christian Movie" genre at all.  It has good actors and not a super cheesy conclusion. I was fortunate enough to attend a prescreening in Pittsburgh earlier this year. Let me just say that the movie is worth it! Watch the trailer:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ruminating on Positivity vs. Negativity

A fellow blogger recently posted about positivity and negativity and it caused me to think about the issue. This isn't really a response, merely musings that have transpired after reading her post. The main question that is in my mind is why read, watch, study negative things (such as dystopian literature)? Can't we just focus on things that are positive? My answer would be no.

Should we encourage students by saying "You can do anything!" or should we be really negative and tell them that most of them will work a dead-end job the rest of their lives. Most people would say the first, but they are both poor things to tell students.

I don't plan on telling my future students, or my future kids for that matter, that they can do anything they put their mind to because it isn't really true. No matter how hard I try I will never be able to play in the NFL. Ok...ok maybe if I want it so badly that I forsake other things that I am more naturally inclined to do (such as being an English major) and I focus all my time on football for the next ten years then I suppose I could maybe be a punter or a cheerleader or a waterboy. I think we should encourage students to do what they are good at/passionate about. It's not being negative, it's just being wise I think.

When it comes to negative things in the world should we just ignore such programs and books in the name of focusing on the positive? Positivity by ignorance of negativity is not really positivity at all. True positivity comes from an embrace of something negative. It's not hard for someone to be positive if they have completely shut themselves off to anything negative 

When it comes to dystopian literature some of my friends find it to be a hopeless and negative genre. Ironically, the ideology of only looking at things deemed positive and not experiencing the negative is a theme that drives dystopian literature. In The Giver by Lois Lowry the council wants to protect the people from the negative experiences of death and argument over differences, so they decided that they would control death so that it didn't have to be experienced in the community. They decided to make everything the same so there would be no arguments or wars over differences. It is this mindset that created the dystopia in the first place.

Also I think it would be a bit disingenuous not to include negative readings and films in school curriculum or in ones own personal library because the world we are in is negative at times. Like I said previously true optimism can only be present in the face of a negative reality (if all we focused on was positivity we would have nothing to be optimistic about except that other people would join us in our utopia).

Most positives are born from negatives anyway. To create a cure for a disease, the disease and death it causes must be recognized. To maintain a healthy relationship we have to confront negative occurrences. You may say, "well when bad things happen you can just choose to focus on the positives!" But I think we should focus on negatives and positives. For instance if you lose a game you can focus on the positives such as "the game was fun" and "i did my best." You can do that all you want and you will never get any better! To truly make progress one has to recognize "I am pretty terrible at this" and "i need to work harder." etc....I don't know....I feel like this post was scatterbrained...I suppose I'll post it anyway. let me know your thoughts.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ruminating on Rhetoric

If you had asked me in high school what the term "rhetoric" referred to I would probably have given you a definition that would be more fitting of the word "blather." That is to say that I would have used the word rhetoric as in the phrase "political rhetoric." My definition for the word would almost be synonymous with "deceit."I also would have mentioned that I knew what "rhetorical questions" were but that is about all. I would imagine that most students are in the same place today; although some may know more about its history and such.

It may be humorous how little I knew of rhetoric and my ignorance of the fact that it is defined as "the art of persuasion." But what may not be so humorous is how little attention rhetoric receives at the high school level, or really any level of education.

In my opinion "communication" is almost synonymous with "persuasion." Even the most basic of greetings contains an element of persuasion. As humans we always have a motive even if that motive is understood. For instance take the following interaction:

Jim: Hello
Steve: Hello
Jim: How are you?
Steve: I'm good. Thanks.

Lets interpret this one of two ways. First, Jim and Steve are friends and this interaction is a genuine one. Second, Jim is pretending to be a friend of Steves but he is trying to trick Steve into thinking that he is a cool guy. In which instance is Jim being persuasive? Most of us would say that in the second instance he is trying to persuade Steve. I would argue, however, that in both instances Jim is being persuasive. We often think of persuasion as a means of deceit but this is simply not the case. Although it may take more persuading when deceit is involved. However, persuasion is also increased when a teacher is trying to teach students a concept that is very abstract; as opposed to a discussion of something that can be verified easily.

I promise this will all tie in at the end but I must make one more digression before discussing what all this has to do with rhetoric and the classroom. In Response & Analysis (p.130-133), Probst discusses how we approach texts differently based on how they look. We expect a poem, for example, to have creative words, abstract concepts, a particular bouncy rhythm, etc. When we read a piece of prose we expect the information to be more straightforward and not really concealed in heavy poetic language. Imagine converting a Dr. Seuss poem into prose. It would be confusing and obnoxious. We simply expect prose to make more sense than that. But when we see a poetic work in its proper form we are prepared for  the type of language that might typify that particular genre.

So what does all of this have to do with rhetoric? Well if all of our communication is a form of persuasion to some degree rhetoric is immensely important. In my discussion of Probst I brought up the visual expectations of a text because so much of today's literacy is based off of visuals. Even the text itself is a visual which imposes on the reader an expectation of what they are about to read. With Web 2.0 and multi-modal instruction becoming more prevalent, the study of persuasion is of immense importance.

Color, font, font size, music, video, powerpoint, video chat and more are all persuasive elements. Social networking itself is one giant act of persuasion. We select the photos we want on our profile in order to persuade people and their view of us (whether true or not). We list groups, organizations, sports teams, celebrities, friends, movies, books, and just about everything else that we want to be identified with. In the employment section of everyone's social network profile it should say "Full-time Rhetorician."

It makes sense. If communication and persuasion are essentially synonymous then the increase of communication, which has occurred due to the innovation of Web 2.0 and the surplus of User Generated Content, necessitates that the study of rhetoric is of utmost importance. Students need to recognize that their audience is the world. They should recognize the permanence of things they post. Students need to understand the power that they have to persuade and act as rhetoricians. They should also be aware of how they themselves are being affected by the rhetoric of others.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ruminating on Budget Cuts

Budget cuts to the PA state school system have taken up a lot of press the past few weeks. I was approached multiple times as I walked to class about writing letters to governor Corbett telling him how enraged I am that he would dare cut funding to higher education.

A woman handed me a postcard and a pen and asked to sign the card so that they could send it to Corbett in protest of the budget cuts. I told her I would think about it. As I walked away I could not help but laugh a little to myself because directly behind the table they had set up was a multi-million dollar construction project; that is the new Student Center. Other expensive renovations have taken place on my campus and there are questions raised about how necessary some of these projects are.

When I originally heard that our school was spending millions of dollars on renovations to several buildings such as a theater, student center, and dining hall, I was a little upset.
“Couldn’t we be spending that money elsewhere?” I had asked. The reply

Although my knowledge in this area is iffy at best, I will do my best to explain the allocation of funds as I understand it currently (corrections would be greatly appreciated). Evidently our university was offered a certain amount of funds, let’s say 50 million dollars, although I am fairly certain it was even more than that. Now whether we had to apply for this I do not know, but at any rate, we as a university had the ability to use that 50 million dollars on construction. That is what the money was allocated for. So this may be how I would converse with the system:
“You have 50 million dollars to spend on construction” they tell me.
“Well we actually could use that money to hire more professors and keep tuition low and class sizes at an optimum size.” I said.
“Oh no, I’m sorry you can use it for buildings, and things like that.” they reply.
“Yea that would be nice, but we need to improve the quality of education here. That’s why student’s are here. How about we use a few million to renovate some of our pre-existing buildings, and use the rest to improve the departments here.” I pleaded.
“ can’t do that. You either use the money for a building or you don’t get it at all.”

This is roughly how I understand the distribution of state funds. It is probably far too elementary an explanation, but I hope it shows my point. The issue is not a lack of funds. It is that there is this crazy way of allocating funds. When it comes to students what can we do about this? Fighting the budget cuts doesn’t really help the situation. And cutting the budget only harms us so much because of the way the system is set up.  That is what needs to change. How do we change the wasteful system that we have?

Ruminating on Undergraduateness

Being an undergrad can be frustrating. I recall in high school I had a similar sentiment about 9th grade. No one would take me seriously! I had so much wisdom (as I would have defined it) to impart to the world and yet no one would listen. I thought that by the time I reached college people would definitely want to hear what I have to say. Now that I am here, I don't want to say anything!

Writing at the undergrad level is mostly citing what people who already have a degree have said. This is mostly an issue for me in the field of literature. For the amount of text I am required to generate from week to week I really am lacking in brilliant ideas to impart to the world. I want to present at a conference. I think it would be a valuable experience. But I barely have time to become an expert in one area in order to give a presentation that would actually be interesting and not just spitting out what other critics have said already.