The Value of Truth: We are living through an epistemological crisis.

In the jargon of academia, the study of what we can know, and how we can know it, is called “epistemology.” During the 1980s, philosopher Richard Rorty declared it dead and bid it good riddance. To Rorty and many other thinkers of that era, the idea that we even needed a theory of knowledge at all rested on outmoded, Cartesian assumptions that the mind was an innocent mirror of nature; he urged that we throw out the baby—“truth”—with the bathwater of seventeenth-century rationalism. What’s the Use of Truth?, he asked in the provocative title of his final book (published in 2007).…

Making Connections in Virtual One-Shots

I often invite my colleague Kelly Clever to give the “library session” to my freshman writing students. Of course there’s only so much anyone can accomplish in a single session, but my students often credit her for helping them make the leap from a general idea to a well-formed research question. Maybe they end up changing their topic a few weeks later, but the good experiences they have during the “library session” will, I hope, encourage them to go back to a librarian many times during their academic career. It’s very interesting to read about our shared experience from the…

A Career-Aligned Major Isn’t Enough

I’ve taken over teaching the English department’s relatively new career focus sequence, so I’m more than usually invested in these ideas. It’s time for faculty and administrators to be blunt: postgraduation success, more than ever, requires a demanding curriculum that includes extensive writing, facility with data and statistics, and extensive opportunities for collaboration and critical thinking. What the pandemic should have taught us is that we need to double down on teaching — not teaching defined simply as instruction or content transmission, but as mentoring, scaffolding, intervening, engaging in substantive interaction and providing constructive feedback. It also entails attending to…

Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers: Four Moves

The confirmation bias describes the very human tendency to reject evidence that challenges our worldview, and to seek out — and often cling to — evidence that supports it. If we believe black cats are bad luck, we remember every time a bad thing happened to us after we saw a black cat. If someone we love tells us we will catch a cold if we go outside with wet hair, we remember every time we went outside with wet hair and then started sniffling. We forget all the times when a bad thing happened, but we hadn’t seen a…

A practical application of close reading skills: Nazi-spotting

Whenever I teach a literature class, I put a lot of energy into helping students understand the difference between the plot summary and personal engagement (“The character I could most relate to in this story was…”) they got praised for doing in high school, and the more advanced literary close reading skills I ask them to do in my literature class. I’ve had some success drawing on the pre-existing skills of art students who are used to analyzing paintings, theatre students who can analyze a monologue, and even science majors who understand the difference between dissecting a frog (to sketch…

The belief that if people only were better educated, they’d engage

  A few hours after the horrifying attack by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol, I received a text from a friend noting, with distress, the picture of Republican senator Josh Hawley pumping his fist in support of the mob just a few hours before the attacks. “But Hawley went to Stanford,” they wrote. “He was a history major! Shouldn’t he know better than to encourage this?” That is a common sentiment. Since the attack, many of my fellow progressives, especially those who, like me, are educators, have sought to reaffirm the importance of learning based on a very straightforward…

Thomas Jefferson on “newspapers without government” vs “government without newspapers”

Those darn founders with their darned respect for the free press. So biased! I am persuaded myself that the good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army. They may be led astray for a moment, but will soon correct themselves. The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to…

Dennis G. Jerz | Associate Professor of English -- New Media Journalism, Seton Hill University | jerz.setonhill.edu Logo

In December 2000, I was blogging about typeface snobbery, freedom in video game spaces, the first email message, and T.S. Eliot’s anti-semitism

In December 2000, I was blogging about Typeface snobbery (The Onion) Videogames as gendered play spaces (Henry Jenkins) Who wouldn’t want to trade in the confinement of your room for the immersion promised by today’s video games? …. Perhaps, my son finds in his video games what I found in the woods behind the school, on my bike whizzing down the hills of the suburban back streets, or settled into my treehouse during a thunder storm with a good adventure novel — intensity of experience, escape from adult regulation; in short, “complete freedom of movement.” The first email message (Pretext)…

Cameras and Masks: Sustaining Emotional Connections with Your Students in an Age of COVID19

There are some sound pedagogical reasons for turning cameras on. Thus, I suggest sharing those reasons with the students before giving them the choice of what to do about their cameras. Explain why you are making your request. For example, being able to see students’ faces gives instructors a quick and easy way to discern whether students are finding the material engaging, at least in smaller classes. One instructor told me that “I asked students to turn their cameras on to say hi to their classmates at the beginning and end of class, and those were the best moments of the class.”

This Woman Inspired One of the First Hit Video Games by Mapping the World’s Longest Cave

The Medium headline calls Colossal Cave Adventure “one of the first the video games,” but it’s a stretch to use “video” to describe the modality of a command line text parser game. The former Patricia Crowther was very helpful to me when I interviewed her by telephone for my DHQ article. I could have written quite a lot more about her as a technologist, rather than mostly as a caver, but I wasn’t writing a book. I enjoyed reading this article by Claire L. Evans, an excerpt from her 2018 book, Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who…

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Okay yes, this affirmation does matter to me and it will go into my annual review for next year.

Marked 832 AP English essays in a week of online work. Rating is based on how accurately I marked the pre-graded training examples scattered in amongst the flood. A really good professional development tool, that helps me to align my assessment with what my peers feel is high school writing skill that deserves college credit.

Dennis G. Jerz | Associate Professor of English -- New Media Journalism, Seton Hill University | jerz.setonhill.edu Logo

In June, 2000 I was blogging about anagrams, 1750 Paris, ambiguity, a hyperlink patent claim, and reading posture

In June, 2000, I was blogging about Poems inspired by anagrams (T.S. Eliot = Toilets; Emily Dickinson = Skinny Domicile) Where to go if you wanted to know what was happening In 1750 Paris The Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations A patent lawsuit that claimed ownership of the concept of hyperlinks Reading posture (how do we shape our bodies when we read?)  

Disagreement Hierarchy: Arguments, ranked from name-calling to the careful refutation of an opponent’s central point

My weekend coronavirus lockdown project was writing up a new handout devoted to Graham’s “Disagreement Hierarchy” for academic arguments. Does the word “argument” make you think of angry people yelling? This document presents Graham’s “disagreement hierarchy,” which catalogs multiple stages between juvenile name-calling and carefully refuting an error in your opponent’s central point. Siblings might “argue” over who gets the comfy chair. Persuasion in that case might involve out-shouting or wearing down the other party with distractions (“Why are you being so mean?” “You always get your way.”) Your task when writing an academic argument is very different. For a…

In “World Drama” I’m adding the absurd, optimistic “The Skin of Our Teeth” (dropping bleak “Waiting for Godot”)

In light of current events, I’m dropping the bleak Waiting for Godot from my World Drama class (actually I’m making it optional; students could drop a different play) and adding Thornton Wilder’s absurdist but optimistic The Skin of Our Teeth.   Writing while World War II was still raging, Wilder depicts a representative American family facing a series of calamities — an ice age, a global flood, an a world war — and warns his audience against resorting to tribalism and selfishness in the face of a crisis.  His play invokes this passage from Plato:   Then tell me, O…

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O tea, O moistened herb! Mug-harbored, Spouse-delivered Steaming under the canopy of a spare shirt. O essence, Inhaled (so that’s what breathing is… now I remember) Consumed (so that’s what swallowing is… now I remember),  Now you are gone, But your goodness endures.

O tea, O moistened herb! Mug-harbored, Spouse-delivered Steaming under the canopy of a spare shirt. O essence, Inhaled (so that’s what breathing is… now I remember) Consumed (so that’s what swallowing is… now I remember), Now you are gone, But your goodness endures.

Watching ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ with 18,000 teenagers was one of the most profound theater experiences of my career

The arts are vital to our lives as humans. And if one entered the cavernous arena suspecting that 18,000 teenagers might view this as class-trip goof-around time, those suspicions evaporated with the extinguishing of the house lights. The students from Queens and Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island laughed with the actors playing the young narrators: Nina Grollman as Scout, Nick Robinson as Jem, Taylor Trensch as Dill. There were gasps and rumbling murmurs at the racist rants of Neal Huff’s villainous Bob Ewell and Eliza Scanlen’s Mayella, the purported victim. Supportive applause erupted at the dignified protestations of…