Morally Ambiguous Hogwarts Houses: A Serious Critical Inquiry

I propose that the most morally ambiguous House isn’t Slytherin.  It’s Ravenclaw.


  • Slytherins are notoriously cunning and ambitious – both qualities that require a power structure to exist and for that structure to have clear, well-known rules (that can be thus subverted for the power ends of the Slytherin doing the subverting).  Thus, Slytherins are forced to acknowledge and work within the existing power structure in one way or another.  It’s not cunning or ambitious if no one can figure out wtf it is.
  • Hufflepuffs, being kind, loyal, and able to see the core of a person, will always act for the right reasons – even if they do the wrong thing.
  • Gryffindors, being courageous, honorable, and daring, will always do the right thing – even if it is for the wrong reasons.

Ravenclaws, however, neither need the power structure nor have a driving sense of decency or daring.  They’re driven by knowledge, learning, and understanding.  Thus, Ravenclaws occupy the position not only of being able to work just as well outside the power structure, but to question the structure itself.

Take heart: no Slytherin is going to take over the world any time soon.  Unless they team up with a Ravenclaw.

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Giving Constructive Feedback to Students

…Is the unofficial title of the presentation I’ll be giving the new English department GAs in a matter of weeks.  (Does the planning committee know what it’s gotten itself into?)

The one idea thrown out to me was the one we were given when I went through the same training a few years ago: “sandwich” a critical comment between two positive ones.  Which sounds great to me, in theory, and I do practice a form of it.  But I find it problematic for two reasons:

  1.  It’s really easy to be, or to come across as, passive-aggressive, and
  2. It’s even easier for your constructive criticism to be ignored.

When we spend time providing comments on student drafts, we want those comments to be heeded.  We want our students to use them, not to skip, miss, or disregard.  Feedback that isn’t concrete as well as constructive simply gets overlooked by busy students, who then find themselves frustrated when they don’t manage to land the grade they want.

Here’s the advice I’ve found more useful than sandwich-building:

  1.  Know what you, the instructor, want.  “Great writing” is too damn vague.  Do you want to see students employing concrete sensory details?  Building tension through dialogue?  Employing the whole of Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle of doom?  Citing their sources correctly?
  2. Limit your wants.  It’s the exceptional student – and the one who doesn’t need your class in the first place – who can give you everything your instructional heart desires in a single paper.  Prioritize.
  3. Front-load your comments.  My method is to provide comments for every student on the rough draft only.  These comments align with each section of my rubric, along with a “grade so far” – an estimate of the number of points they would earn for each section if the rough draft were the “final” draft.  I give comments on final drafts only to students who specifically request them.  Students only specifically request them if they are (a) superhumanly motivated and/or (b) planning to do a rewrite.
  4. Give concrete examples.  Find one really good thing and one “thing that could use improvement” in each focus area, and point it out concretely: “I’ve never eaten a fresh fig, but your description of “the crisp skin and sweet tang” made me feel as if I had.  Good job!” or “I was a little confused by your statement that polar bears are responsible for global warming.  What’s the connection?”
  5. Use “I” statements.  I’ve been told not to do this, because it underlines that students are writing to you, not to some amorphous “audience.”  I call bollocks for two reasons.  (a) they are writing to you.  (b) that’s not a bad thing.  For the purposes of the comments, you are their reader.  You can speak most concretely and constructively from your own experience.  Adopting a distant tone that insists “the reader” doesn’t understand this or can’t follow that just makes you sound like a pompous blowhard and makes writing sound like a fart-in-the-sky endeavor.  The goal is to help your students grasp writing as a tool, not run screaming from it.

(I’m almost certain that is the correct term for the rhetorical triangle.)

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School Writing Vs. Authentic Writing

Dani Alexis:

My first-day lesson could benefit from incorporating some of these ideas more explicitly….

Originally posted on Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care:

by Ken Lindblom

Many students dislike writing in school, and it’s no wonder.  Five-paragraph essay formats, predictable essay questions on books they didn’t choose to read, all written for a teacher (or faceless exam scorer) who knows more about the subject than they do.  Who would find this “schoolish writing”–as Anne Elrod Whitney has called it–appealing? Certainly not Tim Dewar’s daughter, who has “better writing to do”! No where in the world outside school is writing expected to be formulaically written without a real purpose and without a real audience.  As noted educator, Grant Wiggins, has put it:

The point of writing is to have something to say and to make a difference in saying it. Rarely, however, is impact the focus in writing instruction in English class. (29)

While many students claim to dislike writing, according to a PEW Report, today’s young people actually write…

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Silence Starts With “P”: A Research Project

Silence, for me, has always started with P.

Since I was eleven months old, lying on the shag carpeting of my great-aunt’s living room and listening to The Grownups talk about me with no inkling that I understood them, silence has been a Problem.  Even after I learned to talk, silence was a Pathology.  The Pressure to speak, and to keep speaking, is Profound.

Classical rhetoric has little use for silence, or for listening.  They’re figured predominantly as reception, Passivity, the void.  Listening, when it is mentioned, is addressed not as a Positive Presence in and of itself unless it is a form of speech (see “active listening”).

What I intend to do for the next two months is to explore listening, and silence, as Positive sites, sites not only of Potential or Promise but of actual Presence.  My Purposes, loosely, are:

  • to assert listening as a central, centralized, and active rhetorical stance;
  • to stake out space in listening and silence as primary, active modes with their own rhetorics, not merely as the flipside of “speech” (a term under which I include non-verbal forms of communication, like gesture, writing, images, and sign);
  • to carry out this project without explaining what it is I am doing;
  • to respond to Melanie Yergeau’s call to “fuck that shit up,” the “shit” in question, here, being the expectation of “listening” as a form of reciprocal speech.  As I’ve noted in previous posts, I am The Worst at so-called “active listening.”  Since “active listening” operates as a form of speech, I intend to use my The Worstness at it to my advantage by not trying to get any better at it in the next two months, and thus to subvert expectations of what a “project of listening” is supposed to look like.

My method (or Process, if you Prefer):

  • do not talk for two months.  If talking accidentally occurs, make note of it and examine what it is that seemed so earnestly to demand it;
  • to “speak,” rely on alternative communication options (writing, AAC apps, sign, etc);
  • “speak” only when necessary to get things done – and to interrogate what exactly “necessary” means;
  • listen in ways that are natural to my own bodymind listening processes and prioritize actually listening over appearing to listen – i.e., do not fake “active listening” even if the situation appears to demand it.
  • offer no explanation beyond “I can’t talk but I am listening.”

The project should run through July and August 2015.  I have not decided whether singing counts as talking (my brain understands them as two different processes), but since I never sing in public anyway, I’m not sure it’s relevant.  I’ll contemplate this further.

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Livetweeting #2015SDS: My Schedule and Other Sources

Originally posted on Autistic Academic:

As part of the Digital Access Facilitation Team, I’ll be livetweeting several sessions at the 2015 Society for Disability Studies (SDS) conference in Atlanta, beginning tomorrow.  You can follow all the SDS fun at #2015SDS – there are conversations going on both Twitter and Facebook right now.

To follow all the DAFT livetweeters at once, check out our Twitter list here.  The full SDS conference program is available online here [pdf].

The sessions I will be livetweeting (with a partner) are:

Thursday, June 11:

1.5 Occupying Digital Spaces: Disabled People Creating Community and Resisting Ableism Online – 8:30 – 10:00 a.m.  #s11

2.4 New Dimensions in Literary Disability Studies – 10:30 a.m – 12:00 p.m.  #s24

3.3 Rethinking Religious Histories of Madness – 1:30 – 3:00 p.m.  #s33

Friday, June 12:

6.7 Excess, Access, Deviance, and Distress: Trauma as an Analytic in Disability Studies – 10:30 a.m. – 12:00…

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On Deconstruction, Speaking, “Speaking,” and Digital Spaces: #cwcon Presentation

Originally posted on Autistic Academic:

Here are my working outline and slides for the talk I’m giving at the Computers & Writing conference tomorrow at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

The tl;dr version: “Stop telling autistic people we can’t speak when we are allll up in your Internet talking our brains out.”

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My #Kzoo2015: A Recap

I just finished attending (and presenting at) my first-ever academic conference: the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies, aka #Kzoo2015.  Here’s a recap:

1.  My presentation, on representations of mental difference and the rhetoric of disability in Gregory of Tours and the “Green Children of Woolpit” tales, went better than I expected – especially since the room had about ten times the number of attendees I expected.  Big thank-yous to MEARCSTAPA for sponsoring and to Tory Pearman for a fantastic response.

2.  Several people contributed to livetweeting the panel and my part in it.  I’ve Storified the tweets here.

3.  I collected not one but TWO shout-outs in the recap of Day 1 of the Congress.  (This is probably a better measure of how few medievalists were tweeting that day than it is of my (non)influence in the field.)

4.  Over dinner on Thursday (medieval cafeteria salmon), Rebecca Straple clarified for me why it is I keep getting dragged back into the Middle Ages, despite my primary interest in rhetoric and disability studies:  We “other” the medieval in many of the same ways we “other” disability, from the point of view of modernism and its anxiety about the production of the self.  As a result, though I was expecting this Congress to be my only Congress, I now know I’ll be back.

5.  RESOLVED:  I must write that “autism and changeling narratives” paper.  I’ve gotten unabashed enthusiasm for the idea from both the autism side and the medieval side, so.  Luckily, Congress really helped me focus my thoughts in this arena – I even worked up an outline while standing in the interminable Fetzer coffee line yesterday – and a colleague in neuroqueerdom recommended I pitch it to Autonomous Press as a book chapter.

6.  RESOLVED II: Leaving the practice of law for an academic disability studies career: A+ life choice.  While the sessions on legal history I attended yesterday were fantastic scholarship and very informative, I couldn’t shake that nagging personal sense that these were not “my people” in the way the monsters/disability people are “my people.”

7.  Not my work but worth mentioning: Natalie Grinnell’s “A Song for the Hills of Kalamazoo,” inspired by all the walking Congress demands.  Since I live on the city’s most famous hill (not on campus, alas), I relate extra-hard.

8.  Unrelated to Congress but still pretty cool: I found myself linked in an online article in Good Housekeeping of all things.

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