Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reading Rosa Lee

This week, we're looking at how journalist Leon Dash created a window into American poverty when he wrote his Washington Post series about Rosa Lee Cunningham and her family. The series received a lot of criticism for reinforcing stereotypes about poor African Americans, but it also generated discussion about how public agencies in the nation's capital ignored what was happening in Rosa Lee's household.

Inner City Blues, a review by Douglas J. Besharov
Besharov reviews the book and calls Rosa Lee's form of parenting "child abuse."

Readers React: 4,600 readers contacted The Washington Post to respond to the series about Rosa Lee -- installments were published in The Post before the series became a book.

Rosa Lee's Obituary: Leon Dash spent six years chronicling Rosa Lee's life. Before she died, she called him "a friend."

Further Questions to Consider

What's your experience with what Dash calls "the underclass"?
Does this this book give you a new perspective on poverty?
Does it reinforce any stereotypes?
How would you describe Rosa Lee's level of literacy?
What opportunities did Rosa Lee have to get out of poverty?
How would you describe Rosa Lee's upbringing?
Would you describe Rosa Lee's method of parenting as "child abuse"?
Would you agree that Rosa Lee was a victim of child abuse?

Would education have changed Rosa Lee's prospects?
Did anyone offer Rosa Lee guidance?
How about her children?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

To Grade or Not to Grade?

We're into Week #5. Service has started, and the class has ventured into West Philly to meet their learners and take in some city sites, like the quirky row houses above that are so iconic around the UPenn campus. This week, our class is writing their first college English papers. Students have three potential topics to explore, and they also have an option when it comes to grading.

Alfie Kohn suggests that students develop more natural curiosity when they aren't driven to strive for grades. To explore this theory, students can opt to ditch the letter grade on their first paper in favor of comments or a private conference with me about their writing. The challenge is this: which system offers the best learning experience? 

Below, you'll find the assignment, followed by a rubric that offers students the chance to weigh in about assessment.

                        Assignment 1: A Reader’s Response

Craft of Language, SL-2011
Draft due: Thurs., Oct. 6
Final due: Thurs., Oct. 13
Length: 1,000 words

Instructions: You have two choices for this paper. Pick the assignment that interests you most, then sketch out a draft. You’ll hand it in to me on October 6 for comments, then I’ll flip it back to you so you can revise.

The purpose of this assignment: to give you practice responding to in-class readings, something you’ll be asked to do throughout college. Feel free to use “I.” Note: this does not have to be a thesis-driven essay.

Grading: I’ll be grading on 4 areas – content, organization, style, and mechanics.

1. Grading: A Response Manifesto
Alfie Kohn’s essay “From Grading to De-Grading” (286-297) argues that the American grading system is problematic. Write a 1,000-word response essay in which you explore at least three of his points – do you agree or disagree with them? Use personal anecdotes to back up your opinions. At the end of your essay, suggest at least one change to the current grading system. Be sure to quote directly from Kohn’s essay.            

2.  Social Roles: I Won’t _________
Reread Catherine Newman’s article “I DO. Not. Why I Won’t Marry” (61-66), then come up with a rite of passage that you don’t believe is for you (joining a fraternity/sorority, having kids, buying a house, owning two cars, joining the military, etc.) Style your 1,000-word response after Newman’s, using “because” statements to set up each of your points. Be sure into include a strong introduction and conclusion.

3. Reflecting on School
In Johnathan Kozol’s “Preparing Minds for Markets” (331-343), he condemns schools for teaching kids to see themselves as workers in a business. Explore your own experience as a student – was your mind prepared for market or a particular career? Examine any presuppositions, terms, or silent signals that may have fed into this educational paradigm. In your opinion, are there any benefits to this market-driven approach?


Please attach this rubric to your paper:

Does the paper have a strong opening and conclusion? Does the author make clear points and support them?

Does the paper contain specifics and examples? Is it compelling? Does the paper help a reader gain a new understanding about this topic?

Are the sentences clear? Does the writer use interesting, well-chosen words? 

Does the writer set up quotations and offer pager number citations? Is this paper written in complete sentences? Has it been proofread and checked for commas?

Finally…to GRADE or NOT TO GRADE?

____All I need to see is a letter grade.

____I want to skip the letter grade and receive detailed comments.

____Please give me a letter grade and comments.

____I would like to meet with you to go over my paper in person.