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I was an ancient history buff (ancient Greece especially), but I really knew nothing from the Renaissance onwards, which is what this course covers.  So, when you don’t know much about something, it’s hard to find it particularly interesting, but I now I love debating history points.

A Sample Week

AP English Language, Maya Inspektor

2/28/2013

 

Prospective students often ask me what a sample week in my AP courses looks like. The reality is that both my AP Lang and AP Lit courses evolve over the course of the year. During December and January, for example, AP Lang work revolves around the Peace Essay Competition, as students hone their research, argumentation, and writing skills by working on their contest entry. At other times, students work on more creative or interactive assignments, and at other times, we're deep in the trenches of test preparation. However, what follows is about as "average" as a week in AP Lang gets, so I hope it can give you a sense for how my courses function.

In both of my courses, I send out a "Weekly Update" every Sunday, which includes a schedule for the upcoming two weeks. These Weekly Updates list all of the assignments due during the next two weeks, and I only rarely change assignments once they've been sent out. Aside from the Morning Messages, students can work ahead as much as they'd like once I've sent out the Weekly Update, and I always accommodate students with special time constraints or travel plans. 

Here's an actual week of assignments from an AP Lang Weekly Update:

 

 

Week 7: October 22-26

 

Due (by midnight):

Morning Message: The Goals of Education

 

Reading:

  • “4) Education: To what extent do our schools serve the goals of true education?” The Language of Composition. 87-88. Note: pay close attention to the page numbers listed in your reading assignment.

  • Prose, Francine. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read.” The Language of Composition. 89-99.

Discussion (choose three):

 

  • Francine Prose states, “Traditionally, the love of reading has been born and nurtured in high school English class” (para. 1). Do you think this is generally the case? Describe your experience on this subject. (Note: this is a good opportunity to practice turning life experience that might not obviously relate to the question-- homeschooling-- into a center point of your response. If you haven't experienced a traditional high school English class, how can you use that to support your response to the question?)

  • What does Prose mean when she writes, “[B]y concentrating on the student's own history they [teachers] narrow the world of experience down to the personal and deny students other sorts of experience-- the experience of what's in the book, for starts” (para. 40). Do you agree with Prose's statement? Why or why not?

  • What is Prose implying in the following statement about what she calls the “new-mode English-class graduate”: “But of course what's happening is more complex and subtle than that [seeing books as unconnected to advertising], more closely connected to how we conceive of the relation between intellect and spirit” (para. 45)?

  • Whom does Prose blame for this state of affairs? Does assigning blame affect the cogency of her argument? This essay was written in 1999. Do you think Prose would or could make the same argument today? Why or why not?

  • Prose is highly critical of the quality of both I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings  and To Kill a Mockingbird. If you have read either, evaluate her criticism of the book. Pay particular attention to the quotations she selects; is she setting up a straw man-- that is, an argument easily refuted?

  • Prose is skeptical of the practice of using literary works to teach values. Support or challenge her position. Be specific in your references to novels, plays, or poems.

  • Discuss three appeals to ethos in this essay. What different roles, or personae, does Prose use to establish her ethos?

  • Prose's opening paragraph includes such words as appalled, dismal, anddreariness-- all with negative connotations. Why does she start out with such strong language? Does she risk putting off readers who do not share her views? Why or why not? What other examples of strongly emotional language do you find in the essay?

  • Prose makes several key assumptions about the role and impact of reading literary works in high school. What are they?

  • Prose cites many different novels and plays. Does she assume her audience is familiar with some of them? All of them? Explain why it matters whether the audience knows the works.

  • According to Prose, “To hold up [I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings] as a paradigm of memoir, of thought-- of literature-- is akin to inviting doctors convicted of malpractice to instruct our medical students” (para. 13). Do you agree with this analogy? Explain your answer. What other examples of figurative language can you find in this essay?

  • Toward the end of the essay (paras. 35, 39, and 43), Prose uses a series of rhetorical questions. What is her purpose in piling one rhetorical question on top of the other?

 

Monday

Morning Message: Voice Lesson

 

Interaction: Respond to five of your classmates' discussion questions from yesterday with detailed, thoughtful comments.

Tuesday

Morning Message: Decoding Emerson

 

Reading: Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “From Education.” The Language of Composition. 102-109.

 

Discussion (choose three):

  • In this essay, Ralph Waldo Emerson describes his view of an ideal education. What are its defining characteristics? What exactly is the “natural method” to which Emerson refers (para. 8)? Describe the adult that Emerson imagines would emerge from an education based on the principals he supports.

  • Why does Emerson believe “[i]t is better to teach the child arithmetic and Latin grammar than rhetoric or moral philosophy”?

  • In what ways does this essay point out the education system's effect on teachers as well as students? Why does Emerson criticize schools as bureaucratic institutions (para. 10)?

  • What does Emerson mean when he says, “Nature loves analogies, but not repetitions” (para. 1)?

  • Why is the relationship between “Genius and Drill,” as Emerson explains it, paradoxical (para. 3)?

  • Paragraph 4 is taken up almost entirely by an extended example. What is Emerson's purpose in developing this long explanation?

  • Identify examples of the following rhetorical strategies in paragraph 13, and explain their effect: rhetorical questions, sentence variety and pacing, analogy, allusion, and imperative sentences.

  • Point out appeals to pathos through highly emotional and evocative diction.

  • Why does Emerson believe that the “will, the male power” (para. 14) will be of less benefit to the child than “[s]ympathy, the female force”? Emerson refers to educating “a boy” and “a man” and uses masculine pronouns when referring to students. As a reader, does this gender bias affect how receptive you are to Emerson's ideas?

  • How would you describe Emerson's tone in this essay?

  • In paragraph 12, Emerson makes the following assertion about education in his time: “Our modes of Education aim to expedite, to save labor; to do for masses what cannot be done for masses, what must be done reverently, one by one: say rather, the whole world is needed for the tuition of each pupil.” What does he mean? (You might have to look up the meaning of tuition in this context.) Do you think that public education today still resembles Emerson's description? What about homeschooling? Explain.

  • If you were responsible for the education of a child-- your own or one for whom you serve as guardian-- which of Emerson's assertions about education would you choose as your guiding principle? What do you think have served as the guiding principles of your own education?

Wednesday

Morning Message: Poetry-- The History Teacher

 

Interaction: Respond to five of your classmates' discussion questions from yesterday with detailed, thoughtful comments.

Thursday

Morning Message: Your synthesis essays: (and “From Reading at Risk.”)

 

Interaction: Comment on five of your classmates' synthesis essays. Be honest but encouraging, offering suggestions as to how your classmates might improve.

Friday

 

As you can see, I build a lot of interaction into each week's syllabus-- I feel students learn a great deal about writing by comment on each other's work (and receiving feedback from each other), and I love the discussions that evolve from our discussion question posts. Since posting this Weekly Update in the fall, my class and I developed an even more natural way to conduct discussions. Now, while discussion question interactions do not happen live, students respond directly to each other's ideas and deepen our collective analysis of their readings with each post. I'll have to post a sample of these interactions in a later showcase!

I take advantage of the fact that I live seven hours ahead of my students and post a "Morning Message" on the course website each morning before they wake up. Usually these messages involve a quick task to complete, and sometimes I use them to direct students to outside readings. The feel of each message varies, but I find they're a great way to provide direct instruction and deepen students' thinking about classwork. Past students have told me that they miss waking up to a Morning Message once my class has ended!

Here are two sample Morning Messages that I posted during the week I share above. 

 

The Monday Morning Message:
 

Good morning!

Up until this week, your readings in Language of Composition have focused on general instruction. You've studied argument, rhetorical analysis, and synthesis (not coincidentally, also the three kinds of essays you'll face on the exam). This week, though, we start a new kind of unit: themed readings about the same general topic. These units will lead us to deeply engage with ideas, not just with the mechanics of writing, and I can't wait to get started. I personally find the first topic fascinating: education.

When I was in graduate school, I read a book by Neil Postman called The End of Education (a pun; "end" can mean "purpose"). It essentially asked, what's the point of public education? Why should you learn about the quadratic formula, Shakespeare, or the war of 1812 when few of these topics are likely to be relevant to your job some day? Why should the government pay so much for public education-- what's in it for society?

Here's how Wikipedia describes Postman's view of public school's purpose:

Postman begins by emphasizing the difference between education and schooling:

"To the young, schooling seems relentless, but we know it is not. What is relentless is our education, which, for good or ill, gives us no rest. That is why poverty is a great educator. Having no boundaries and refusing to be ignored, it mostly teaches hopelessness. But not always. Politics is also a great educator. Mostly, it teaches, I am afraid, cynicism. But not always. Television is a great educator as well. Mostly it teaches consumerism. But not always." (pg. ix.)

Postman believes that schools' primary social function is to create a common culture among citizens through the communication of unifying purpose-giving narratives rather than to simply initiate children into the economy.

“The idea of public education depends absolutely on the existence of shared narratives and the exclusion of narratives that lead to alienation and divisiveness. What makes public schools public is not so much that the schools have common goals but that the students have common gods. The reason for this is that public education does not serve a public. It creates a public.” (pg. 17)

Furthermore, he feels American education has drifted away from its founding narratives of Democracy and Individual rights, replaced by the narratives of economic utility and the belief in technology as the measure of humanity's progress. Postman believes that the school system's current narratives at best, fail to sufficiently inspire and, all too often, fail to communicate anything at all. Chief among the failing gods is Economic Utility, the view of school's highest purpose as preparation for the workplace.

"The preparation for making a living... is well served by any decent education." (pg. 32, 33) “Here it is necessary to say that no reasonable argument can be made against educating the young to be consumers or to think about the kinds of employment that might interest them. But when these are elevated to the status of a metaphysical imperative, we are being told that we have reached the end of our wits—even worse, the limit of our wisdom.” (pg. 35,36)

In other words, Postman sees "schooling" as something separate from learning-- "schooling" is an institution, with its own goals.  The point of public schools used to be to prepare students to participate in a democracy; now the "narrative" of public schools is to prepare students for the workplace or to use technology, two "ends" that he sees as pretty lacking.

Before I read Postman's book, I never thought of "education" as being anything separate from "learning." As fellow homeschoolers, I bet some of you think the same way. When I taught in a conventional school, on the other hand, I realized just how many of the goals of "teaching" have little to do with academic learning-- students are supposed to learn to share, to write neatly, to follow directions, to respect their classmates, uplift the downtrodden, form value judgments, etc.  I taught in a Jewish day school, so it had its own particular goals: to produce graduates who would live Jewish lives, avoid intermarriage, support Israel, and serve as Jewish leaders in their synagogues and the Jewish community at large. The goals of public school are a bit harder to define, but they are there. As ridiculous as I always found the "what about socialization" question, socialization--induction into American society as well-adjusted citizens--IS a primary goal of school. (Whether it succeeds at this goal is another question.) Homeschooling can be seen as a threat to the creation of these armies of school graduates who have been prepared to be productive, well-rounded members of society.

I truly look forward eavesdropping on your discussions in this unit-- particularly because you aren't its standard audience. (One discussion question suggests that students interview homeschoolers about their experiences!) Incidentally, the AP exam writers love to ask questions about school because they think these questions are accessible to students, so your readings and discussions in this unit are great preparation for turning your (possible) lack of knowledge about conventional education into a strength, since it gives you a unique critical perspective.

Today, let me ask you: what is the goal of your home education? (Have you ever asked your parents this question? What do they say?) Are you a threat to the goals of public education? Is the goal of your education the same as the goal of conventional school? Do you think your education is succeeding in reaching its goals?

I hope you enjoy our discussions this unit!

Mrs. Inspektor

 
 
The Wednesday Morning Message:
 

Ralph Waldo Emerson. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Waldo_Emerson

Good morning!

Thank you for your thoughts yesterday about Helen Keller's memoir. I'm inclined to agree that it should be cut, though I don't think I've found the perfect replacement yet. (Perhaps no replacement is necessary.) I'm now interested to see how you react to Rodriguez!

Your reading by Emerson, today, highlights the fact that not all 19th-century writing is flowery. While it can be tough to get into the flow of Emerson's words at first, once I do, I'm struck by his simple, concrete word choices. Consider these lines from paragraph 8:

The child is as hot to learn as the mother is to impart. There is mutual delight.  The joy of our childhood in hearing beautiful stories from some skillful aunt who loves to tell them, must be repeated in youth. The boy wishes to learn to skate; to coast, to catch a fish in the brook, to hit a mark with a snowball or a stone; and a boy a little older is just as well pleased to teach him these sciences.

Out of 82 words, fully 67 are just one syllable long. I used far more polysyllabic words in the paragraph above the quote; it takes great care to use such strong and simple diction. Emerson's imagery is concrete and vivid. If I told you to get specific, in my comments on your literacy narrative, THIS is what I meant. Consider this paragraph instead, which has the same general meaning, but none of the power or energy:

Children, in general, are highly desirous of knowledge, and their mothers are naturally inclined to bestow instruction upon them. They find this relationship to be mutually beneficial and satisfactory. Children also tend to enjoy the recounting of fairy tales or other such narratives, and this pleasure tends not to decrease with time. Children have natural desire to acquire physical skills, and they can also be called upon to instruct younger children in the development of said skills.

 Emerson takes complex abstract ideas and makes them concrete, rooting them in verbs and images. I especially love the choice of "hot" to describe a child's desire to learn; it makes the concept of "desire" concrete, making the child's hunger for knowledge seem primal and emotional. It's also striking that Emerson uses "sciences" to refer to physical skills such as learning to skate, catch fish, or throw snowballs; in doing so, he elevates normal childhood play to the level of academic study, implying that we can also rely on children to seek (and teach) intellectual knowledge, too.

(By the way, the paragraph from Emerson also shows that the rules of punctuation have changed. Emerson's writing style is worth emulating; his use of semicolons isn't!)

In response to today's message, please take a few lines from Emerson's essay and "translate" them either into contemporary language or flowery, general prose-- whichever strikes you are more fun or useful. (Preserve as much of the line's original meaning as you can.) Then, explain what is effective about Emerson's original phrasing. Make the first few words of the lines you "translate"  the subject line of your reply. (My subject line could be "The child is as hot to learn as...") A reply to today's message is mandatory.

I hope you enjoy today's reading! Don't forget to use marginalia or other close reading strategies to interest yourself in the text as you read. You may need to read this essay more than once. If you start to have emotional reactions to Emerson's ideas and start to get a sense for the personality behind his words, you're probably understanding the text.

Mrs. Inspektor

 

 

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