For Those Who Stayed In on National Coming Out Day

It’s National Coming Out Day in the U.S.  For many people, today meant admitting publicly to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity for the first time.  But for many, many others, it meant running a cost-benefit analysis – again – and deciding “…maybe next year.”

For everyone who confronted today and stayed inside:

You made the right choice.  You had a tough call to make, and you’re doing what is best for you right now.  Know that you are no less valuable, no less loveable, and no less important than if you had “come out” today.  Know that, no matter what, you matter.  

Maybe next year.

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Tweaking the Rough/Final/Rewrite Draft Process in First-Year Writing

I find it ironic that every measure I have taken this semester to get out of doing work has resulted in better writing from my students.

Daily writing journals I never read = better writing.  Homework I grade solely on whether it was turned in on time = better writing.  Limiting my commenting on their rough drafts to ten minutes per paper = better writing.  Using the rubric to give them a “grade so far” on the rough drafts and to target feedback, so I can limit commenting on their final drafts to five minutes per paper = better writing.

I’ve never before had a job where I got better results by doing less work.  I’m sure this is because I’m doing less work in the “right” ways; if I tried to do less work by assigning less homework, for instance, the writing would certainly not be better.

The rough draft/final draft/rewrite process is my current focus.  This semester, my students write a “rough draft,” to which I respond by “grading” it according to the rubric and targeting my comments to the rubric sections in which the draft loses the most points.  (This “grade” is for reference only; the only points at stake in the rough draft are the ten they get for turning it in on time, just like any other homework assignment.)  Then, they write a “final draft,” in which I encourage them to use my comments and their peers’ review as a guide to revision (most do).  If they are still dissatisfied with their grade at this point, they can write a “rewrite” – at this point, I strongly encourage them to stop by my office hours to talk before they attempt the rewrite.

So far:

  • Quality of the final draft is absolutely correlated to whether or not the rough draft was turned in, with most students making significant gains between the rough and final drafts.  I had one student bump a grade from a 65 on the “rough” draft to a 100 on the “final,” although the average bump is 15 points.
  • Students who turned in both a rough and final draft averaged an A on the paper.  Students who turned in only a final draft averaged a C.
  • I recommended a rewrite to only one student, of 30, who turned in both a rough and final draft.  This student made the 15-point average increase, but it was from a 65 to an 80, and I firmly believe the student can move this draft into “A” territory with one more go-round and some one-on-one coaching.

What I am trying to decide now is whether to keep this three-step structure or to modify it – and if so, how.  Possibilities include:

  • Making the “final” draft optional if the student is satisfied with his or her “rough” draft grade.  Pros: fewer finals for me to grade; more free time for students.  Cons: Even the ones who gave me “A” rough drafts improved in the final draft, so I believe the revision process is good for them as well.
  • Eliminating the rewrite option.  Pros: fewer rewrites for me to grade; more pressure to do both the rough and final drafts.  Cons: students who don’t do rough drafts typically don’t do them under increased pressure either; less flexibility for students with computer issues/family issues/whatever; less scope for that one-on-one time.
  • Mandating a one-on-one paper talk before turning in the rewrite.  Pros: Students who need a rewrite typically do better one-on-one; my office hours actually get used.  Cons: (maybe?) more work for me; occasional student may be unable to schedule.

Thoughts?  Opinions?  What would have worked for you a student – or does work for you as a teacher?

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I’m Giving a Paper at Congress!

Not Congress Congress.*  Unless you are a medievalist.  Then yes, Congress Congress.**

Specifically, I’ll be presenting as part of MEARCSTAPA‘s “Monsters II: De/Coupling Monstrosity and Disability” panel at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, aka “Kalamazoo.”  This is the first paper proposal I’ve submitted in my academic career, and the first accepted (though whether this will be the first conference I present at depends in part on how some other proposals come through in the next few weeks).  It’s a great opportunity; Congress is a big deal, and because it’s in Kalamazoo, I get to sleep in my own bed.

My paper is workingly titled “Whose Kids Are You Calling Monsters?: Capacious Concepts of Childhood Disability in Medieval Literature.”  Here’s how I described it recently to a colleague, via Facebook:

The paper argues that conflating conceptions of disability with portrayals of the monstrous in analyzing medieval literature is actually a mistake of the modern, post-eugencis-era mind’s understanding of disability as “other-than-human”, and that if we look at the texts (particularly Gregory of Tours, who did some remarkable writing about cases of disabled children), we find that in fact disabled medieval people did pretty much all the same things non-disabled medieval people did – and that their communities treated them as members, not Others.”

Among other things, I’ll be exploring Gregory of Tours’s various portrayals of disabled children and adults, as well as stories of disabled and/or “wild children” and/or “changelings” who were absorbed into communities as foundlings and raised there.

The supreme irony is that, today, I am working on a paper on Ortnit and Wolfdietrich arguing that conceptions of changelings, wild children, and “kids born under weirdo circumstances” (in this case, with a cross-dressing father) are precisely what mark Wolfdietrich out as “different” – although I do want to explore the shakiness of the line between “bad-Other” and “good-Other.”

*Contrastive reduplication: my new language toy obsession.

**Sessions of the U.S. Congress would be greatly improved by the addition of medievalists giving papers, though.

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Autism and the Complication of the Impairment/Disability Binary

Over at Autistic Academic, I discuss the disability studies’ “disability vs impairment” model and how it makes little sense in the context of my lived autistic life.

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Writing With My Students: Am I “A Writer”?

This semester, I am not only assigning beaucoup writing assignments to my students – I’m also writing with them.  I can insert many Sound Pedagogical Reasons(TM) here, but really it’s about two things:

(1)  Testing my writing assignments by doing them myself – are these prompts really worth assigning?

(2)  Practicing writing (as we all must do in order to improve at it), instead of sitting around bored-ly as my students practice writing without watching me practice what I’m preaching to them.

Since I was thinking primarily in terms of number 2 when I wrote this semester’s syllabus, I had envisioned writing with my students as they wrote in class.  I forgot that I also assign them writing prompts to address as homework.  When I remembered (this morning in the shower), I realized that I should probably write to those as well.

Like my students, I’ll be trying to keep these to about 250-300 words, or one double-spaced page.  Unlike my students, I’ll be blogging them instead of uploading them to my writing portfolio.  Because a blog is far more public than a locked folder in our school’s course management system, all of these writing responses will be my own.  I will not post any of my students’ writing unless they ask to be posted and until they provide me with a piece they feel is ready for the public eye.  All of these posts can be found in the category “Writing With My Students.”

This Tuesday’s writing prompt (due Thursday):

Who is “a writer”?  Do you consider yourself “a writer”?  Why/why not?


I write for a living.  I teach writing.  I answer the question “what do you do for a living?” with “I’m a writer.”  And yet, for all that, I don’t actually consider myself a writer – because I don’t write fiction.

What I write, professionally, is marketing copy for law firms, recruiting firms, and assorted other businesses.  I also write the occasional study guide or lesson plan or assessments for educational purposes, and I’ve written an awful lot of informational articles about various legal topics, some for highly well-known publishers.  And, most ironically of all, I’ve published a few pieces of fiction.

But there’s still this idea in my head of “a writer” being this person who lives in a remote cabin somewhere and who retires to a desk on the porch or in the attic to pound out X number of words each day, Y number of novels per year.  And because I do so much more than sit at a desk and scribble or type for eight to twenty hours a day – because I don’t subsist on whiskey or grow my own vegetables or live in a large pile of polydactyl cats – I don’t think of myself as “a writer.”  And I suspect that even if I did write a successful novel or twenty, even if the local library devoted a summer community read-along to my latest book and the local college taught a “major writers” course on what I’d produced in my lifetime, I still might not think of myself as “a writer.”

Yet I write.

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autism, changelings, wild children, ogbanje and abiku

Dani Alexis:

I have read exactly two of these so far and the others are all RELEVANT TO MY INTERESTS.



Originally posted on Lemon Peel:

To continue my foray into the magical changeling fairy-tale world that Dani Alexis currently hangs out in, I can offer up some fun citations of my own that I culled from my giant, completely disorganized folders of sources. I found most of these back while I was researching either disability in literature/history in general, or the specific figure of the “wild child” (as in Victor of Aveyron, etc. etc.) in Romantic and Victorian philosophical works about language and species.

General bits on changeling myths, disability/abnormality in the Middle Ages, and “wild children”:

Eberly, Susan Schoon. “Fairies and the Folklore of Disability: Changelings, Hybrids and the Solitary Fairy”

Wade, James. Fairies in Medieval Romance (Chapter 1): Fairies and Humans Between Possible Worlds

Bruhm, Steven. “The Counterfeit Child”

Laes, Christian and Katariina Mustakallio. The Dark Side of Childhood in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Chapter 3): Disabled Children in Gregory of Tours


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Another Way to Split the Baby: Chemerinsky and the Roberts Court’s ACA Decision

The Supreme Court’s holding in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius (the “Obamacare” case), with its particular constellation of things-upheld, things-struck-down, and who-voted-with-whom, surprised everyone except me and one commentator at the New York Times.  Both of us called the decision’s basics – 5-4, with Roberts both casting the deciding vote and writing the opinion – and for the same reason: because we saw no way in which Roberts could protect the legitimacy of his Court’s precedent without upholding and no way in which Roberts could limit that holding unless he wrote it.

Recently, however, I reviewed UC-Irvine law professor and much-assigned Constitutional Law casebook author Erwin Chemerinsky’s newest book, The Case Against the Supreme Court (Viking, September 29, 2014).  Chemerinsky argues that if the purpose of the Constitution is to protect fundamental individual rights against institutional power, the Supreme Court has failed in its job to uphold the Constitution, often at the times the Constitution needed it most.  One of these failures, in Chemerinsky’s view, was the Court’s ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius.

I can’t fault Chemerinsky’s reasoning, and I personally think he’s right.  But what his discussion of this case did was to cast my prediction of the case’s holding, and the holding itself, in a new light.

For some time I have, simplistically and cynically, been predicting the Roberts court’s rulings based on the following system:

  • Government vs. individual: government.
  • Business vs. individual: business.
  • Government vs. business: business.
  • State government vs. federal government: states.

This system doesn’t always work – unions are arguably institutional powers, yet the Court treats them like individuals (that is to say, badly), and Scalia’s dogged adherence to the Fourth and Sixth Amendments has produced some rulings in favor of individuals as against government prosecutorial power (for which I am generally grateful).  But this is obviously not a Court that is, in Roberts’ words, “calling balls and strikes.”  This, like any of the Courts before it, is a Court with an agenda – which is how I can create a system for predicting its rulings at all.

Chemerinsky points out that in Sebelius, Roberts finds that conditions on federal funding are unconstitutional for the first time in U.S. history – and for spurious reasons. The fact that those funds are Medicaid funds, intended to protect the health of society’s poorest individuals, cannot be overlooked.  Here we have the federal government losing to the state governments, in the terms of the opinion, and individuals losing to both.  The system requiring individuals to purchase health insurance from private insurers, meanwhile, is a clear case of individuals losing to business – and, while not the Court’s doing, one could argue that the death of the public option represented a loss for government against business as well.

My original prediction/interpretation of the Court’s ruling in this case questioned the continued acceptance of the Court’s precedent.  I still suspect that factored into Roberts’s decisionmaking.  But Chemerinsky has also pointed out to me that, in addition to being a last-ditch effort at legacy preservation, Roberts’s opinion in this case also split this particular baby in the ways that best fit the Court’s framework for protecting (or failing to protect) individual rights against various institutional powers.  Something else to consider in my ongoing struggle/fascination with the Obamacare decision.

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