e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


quotations out of context?

One of my advanced writing classes this term is using Don Lazere's book, Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy, a very strong text for teaching argumentation, reading various media, and textual analysis in ways that aren't reductive. I especially appreciate Lazere's 'Ground Rules for Polemicists,' which includes this useful ditty:
Present...[a counter position] through its most reputable spokespeople and strongest formulations.
A challenging ground rule, to be sure, and one I was thinking about as I listened to reports about the Bill O'Reilly dust-up. After his (no doubt surreal) dinner with Al Sharpton (think of Nixon and Elvis talking drug policy, Eazy-E fundraising for the GOP), O'Reilly said that "even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship...there wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'M-F-er, I want more iced tea'." Now, even my quick quotation of O'Reilly is probably a violation of the aforementioned ground rule. I'm foregrounding--though, by no means, inventing--the outlandishness, instead of the "strongest formulation" of O'Reilly's statements.

Maybe reports of the dust-up are doing the same thing. Certainly, this story has the kind of flash that gets ratings. Mainstream news love this stuff. And, of course, O'Reilly does too. He puts his name in heavy circulation. Pundits who point out the statement's racism get themselves into circulation.

Who knows for sure anybody's true intentions here? Did O'Reilly cook this up for attention? Did his critics step forward quickly because they genuinely wish to critique racism, or to get a slice of the buzz, or both? Who knows? But now the circulation begins. The buzz, the hype, a conversation on race that says nothing new.

By nothing new, I mean to say that the discussion offers a whole lot of tired ideas. Starting with O'Reilly himself, who expresses--or, if you prefer, feigns--surprise over the civility at the restaurant. Really? That old nugget? Not that I expect much originality in racist discourse, but I can't think of a bigger cliche. Chris Rock has a very funny routine from the 90s when so many were pointing out Colin Powell is articulate. "What the f___ do you expect? He's an educated man." Rock could do a similar routine about O'Reilly, a routine that hopefully would pick up on not only the statement's racism but also on the absurdity of expecting restaurant owners and/or customers to mirror personas from pop music.

And since he's a skilled comic Rock would bring the funny. And since he's a smart comic he would also be at once drawing attention to O'Reilly's ignorance and the familiarity of the critiques. And most of the critical responses to O'Reilly sounded like a "routine." Because they are routine.


the teaching of reading

In the Advanced Exposition course I'm teaching this term, I give quick reading quizzes on most days. Like quick freewrites, quizzes can jump-start discussions, especially if one or more of the quiz questions provides an intriguing place to begin the conversation. Mostly, I want the quizzes to foster the habits of active reading that I always talk about in classes: commenting in the margins, summing up the gist right after reading, talking back to the text, re-reading tough passages, and even developing "talking points" when you know you're prepping for a class discussion.

Yesterday, a creative, intellectually curious student who I've had in other courses asked me for further tips on how to retain details. She's a language arts education major and wants not only to ace my quizzes but also to know more about close reading for herself and her students. We had a good discussion about our own practices/habits, but I realized afterward that I wish I had a more sophisticated understanding of the teaching of reading. Despite the literacy and education courses I took in graduate school and despite the years I spent teaching "developmental" writing courses (not to mention developmental writing being one of my exam areas back in grad school) which often involves extra attention to reading, I need to learn a lot more.


a time to serve

We also discussed yesterday Richard Stengel's Time Magazine cover story on the efficacy of a national service program. Stengel argues that we need a stronger, more-centralized plan for supporting civic engagement. Among other proposals, he suggests the formation of a national service academy (akin to military academies), a public institution of higher education that would train young people interested in careers in various sectors of public service. He also argues for Baby Bonds, federal investment of $5,000 in every baby born in the U.S. Once of age, an individual would have the option of giving one year of service in return for the matured bond (about $20,000). Stengel's report is provocative on many levels. He also points out that cynicism and mistrust of the government is at an all-time high and so is volunteerism. And he cites some interesting studies that suggest that civic engagement is highest in homogenous communities--the more diverse a community, the less civically engaged its members.

We had a great (though quite heated) discussion of the article in class. Several students took much offense of the notion of "paid" service and thought this would sully the intentions and motivations of servers as well as the service itself. Some rejected the analogy and connection between "military service" and "community service" (Stengel suggests that those interested in their baby bonds could opt for either) as another example of polluting the "purity" of service. For some in the class, "service" has this exalted, pure, and apolitical status. Nobody in the class who opposed the military service/community service conflation expressed general opposition to the military in general or current policy in particular...but they did see military work as a completely different domain, a domain involving politics. My sense (and I want to clarify this next week) is that many in the class see joining the military as a political statement and/or a statement of particular partisan leanings. But community service, in their eyes, exists outside the world of political partisanship.

Stengel, Richard. "A Time to Serve." Time Magazine (10 September 2007): 49-67.

x-listed in 'rhetoric of civic engagment'


In my Writing for Civic Literacy class, students formed workgroups for their collaborative projects. Glad we waited until we'd had several class discussions and done a whole-class site visit to the foster home...which I think gave everybody more context for thinking about the actual work. Looks like we've got four workgroups.

1. Success Stories. A series of reports on folks who have aged out of the system and found success with independent living. St. Peter's wants to use these reports in their grants and as web content, to demonstrate effectiveness.
2. Legislative advocacy plan. A comprehensive report on the state of foster care in Detroit to use in Lansing to justify public support for the home.
3. Vocational plan. A comprehensive report on the Detroit job market including recommendations on the feasability of on-site vocational programming.
4. Training manuals for tutors. Instructions for their new volunteers who'll be doing direct, one-on-one instruction with the residents.

Woo! This is going to be an interesting couple of months.

x-listed in 'the rhetoric of civic engagement'



You scored as Luna Lovegood, You are Luna Lovegood. You daydream and often seem to be drifting off into your own world. You have very strong opinions that many agree are not logical. You place a lot of faith in these beliefs. Possibly, you see more than what meets the eye. You are very accepting of others. You may have only a few close friends because you refuse to sacrifice your opinions and true self for social graces.

Luna Lovegood


Neville Longbottom


Hermione Granger


Bellatrix Lestrange


Draco Malfoy


Ron Weasley


Severus Snape


Harry Potter


Remus Lupin


Sirius Black


Oliver Wood


Percy Weasley


Albus Dumbledore


Lord Voldemort


Harry Potter Character Combatibility Test
created with QuizFarm.com


doesn't take long...

For the semester's busy-ness to kick in. Today I get a set of first drafts from the English 327 students. Then it's off to a site visit at St. Peter's Home for Boys, our community partner, with the English 364 gang. My research assistant Kathleen and I begin our qualitative interviews with the 364 students, too, and I think I've got the digital recorder we borrowed from the Civic Engagement Office figured out. Cool.

In the meantime, last night we wrote an offer on a house. Our real estate agent expects to hear something today. Cross fingers. Cross fingers. Cross fingers. The offer is notably lower than the asking price, which is notably lower than what the sellers paid three years ago. Such is the housing market in Detroit. The liberal guilt is in full effect, though, lessened slightly by the fact that 1) Nicole and I got hosed when we sold our place in Ohio a few years back, 2) the seller is probably happy to have an offer, period--given the motown economy right now--as opposed to shouldering an extra mortgage as they move out of state, and 3) the seller's new employer has hired a "transition company" to handle the transaction which means we're really buying the place from a corporation, not a person. Jeez, neither of the universities for whom I've worked ever offered to do that.

And finally, updates from my nephew, who's in his first month of school at Georgetown, enjoying dorm hijinxs and getting involved in Barack Obama's campaign, which probably excites exactly nobody in my family except for Nicole and I. We'd like to believe he chose his school because he thinks maybe his aunt and uncle are super cool because they studied with Jesuits, but it probably has more to do with how smart he is and a love of politics. Go Steve...go Hoyas.



What are blogs if they aren't a little (or a lot) self-indulgent?

Ch-ch-ch-check it out: Donahue and Moon's Local Histories: Reading the Archives of Composition is finally out. I love the premise of this book: developing counter-narratives to the familiar Harvard and Michigan stories that purport to reveal the origins of composition in the U.S. The counter-narratives take readers to historically black colleges and two-year colleges and other sites that historicize the discipline in new ways.

Thanks to editors Pat and Gretchen for including me in the volume. I contribute "William Rainey Harper and the Ideology of Service at Junior Colleges," and use the story of Harper ("father of the junior college movement") to analyze how open-admissions schools use the concept of "service" rhetorically.

As the man once said, "these things take time." First composed in 2001, this essay evolved from a chapter of my dissertation. Glad the book, at long last, has made contact with daylight. Congrats to Pat and Gretchen...I know the thinking, the labor, and the patience that go into such a volume.


evicted nuns

I've written before about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal--the shame of the abuse itself and the shame of the public relations (over human) concerns of church leadership, the shame of crying 'anti-Catholic' bias in the media as a way of explaining away the horrific reports. Now comes news of a group of Santa Barbara nuns being evicted by the L.A. Archdiocese which is selling their home to pay for settlements from the abuse lawsuits. Recall that those settlements involve over $600 million. Recall too that the settlements, by most accounts, happened so the archdiocese could avoid its leader, the despicable Cardinal Roger Mahony, being put under oath. How is this guy not being held in any way accountable? Not just for evicting elderly nuns (speaking of p.r. nightmares), but for his extremely well-documented, decades-long history of covering up abuse and re-assigning predators to jobs involving working with children. Another story that I'm sure right-wing apologists like the Catholic League will spin as blown out of proportion. Urghh.

new writing schedule

As I settle into the new term, I'm happy with my routine. I've made a committment to spending three hours each Monday and Wednesday writing. Not reading. Not note-taking. Not thinking things through while doing laundry. Three hours of solid writing on each of those days. Either in my office at home or at Caribou Coffee. So far I've kept up with that committment. Now I've said it on the blog, so I have to stick to it.


detroit, rock city

Just when the search for a place to call home in Detroit--don't ask about the place that we loved until learning of the rat problem--was starting to slag us down, last night was a reminder of why this is a great place to live.

The Muldoons and The Dirtbombs shared a bill at a new venue called the Crofoot. The former, a family band fronted by a ten-year-old, is the rockingest punk band I've ever seen. Only in Detroit could this act be so much more than a novelty. Their guitar prowess has grown in the months since I saw them before, and both guitarists (who I think got *taller* too) engaged in some awesomely over-the-top Marty McFly theatrics. And the songs...they give The Ramones a run for their money in terms of speeding through ninety-second-long ditties with little or no breaks or banter. Their fan base seems to consist of a combination of youngish Detroit hipsters, slightly older music geeks (think the character Jack Black plays in most of his movies), Nicole and I, and their relatives. Makes for an odd crowd.

The Dirtbombs, probably one of the only local acts who wouldn't be upstaged by the Muldoons, tried on a little psychedelia. Extra feedback and fuzz, some drum solos, an extended intro or two to familiar D'bombs classics. They busted out a few new songs. If they're working on a record, sounds like it might be straight-ahead rock this time out (after a "soul" record, a "punk" record, etc.). They did a lot of their catchier stuff and had the Crofoot crowd dancing to "Underdog" and "Granny's Little Chicken." Would have liked to have heard their cover of Lou Rawls' "Natural Man," but, hey, with the size of their catalogue, you never know what they'll bust out. The show ended with drummer Ben Blackwell scaling the balcony and doing a grunge-era-worthy dive onto his set while the rest of the band looked on non-plussed.

Not a bad place to live in after all.


what kind of civic engagement makes us happy?

Yesterday I had the first sesion of my upper-level 'Writing for Civic Literacy' class. Great group of students, all coming to the class with a good deal of experience doing various kinds of civic work. Four have spent time doing hurricane relief on the gulf coast. Several spoke of growing up "in the church," where community service was mandatory. Most involve themselves in Volunteer Dearborn activities via student life on campus. Glad that they all have frames of reference to draw on in our discussions as well as our planning for our own course projects with the foster home.

My research assistant, who's sitting in on the class and conducting the interviews for our project looking into student notions of civics and community, is an intern with a think-tank in the college of ed. and doing research on child abuse and the foster care system. So she'll provide invaluable context for our work and be another resource for student projects.

For the research, I've been looking at a lot of literature on service learning (look here for critical summaries of that literature) that tries to take the pulse of student perceptions of civic engagement. The party line seems to be that students have much affinity for volunteerism but much skepticism toward activism. Much of the literature bemoans this as a sign of apathy and disengagement from the political process. One thread I'm starting to explore is the idea that students have an affective connection to "volunteer work," which feels good and lacks the agonism and discomfort of "activist work" (something I felt while handing out peace literature at the Dream Cruise two weeks ago!). Okay, that's worth exploring. But having digested the Wingspread Statement (a manifest written by students a few years back), I'm seeing that there may be a kind of converse to this, too. Many faculty have the opposite affective desire: one that involves a bodily attraction and passion for activism. The literature reflects this, especially that which bemoans apolitical students and uses as its evidence resistance to electoral politics and attraction to 'service sans politics.'

(cross-listed on Civic Engagement blog)


long days

Like many, this week is back-to-school week for me. New classes, new preps, new students, new schedule. One of the great things about the academic life has to be the newness of a new term. Keeps things from getting boring. I've always gotten a two-day teaching schedule at UMD (this term I'm a Tuesday/Thursday guy), another perk, but one that results in long days.

Yesterday: no exception. Early lunch--UM-Dearborn's pattened box lunches--at a "freshpersons meet the faculty" event. Followed by robing and procession across campus for freshpersons convocation. Convocation's an odd throw-back of a ceremony where we teachers suit up in the robes and what-not. Faculty who are Michigan graduates recognize one another's hoods and give each other huzzahs. I think I'm the only person at my school whose doctorate is from U of Arizona, so I miss out on the "here here"s, but I take part each year nonetheless. At convocation, new students (fitiacs as well as transfers) here from the chancellor, the dean of admissions, and the president of the student body. A little bit of rah rah, a lot of welcome to higher ed, and always some interesting data on the new class. For example, this year we've got 915 first-years and 750 transfer students, which represents pretty agressive growth. Anyhow an ice cream social follows convocation.

And then some blessed downtime, during which I worked on an RSA conference proposal in my office. Early evening meeting-dinner with new students in our masters in liberal studies program. I teach in the program and serve on the program's advisory board, so this is another "must attend." About eleven hours on campus--I need to build my stamina for the long days.



Why does it bug me that the popular press is using words like "fallout" to describe responses to Appalachian State beating the University of Michigan? For heaven's sake it's a football game. I think the word "upset" is justified, but unless you 1) might lose your coaching job over the game's results, or 2) just lost a boatload of money of the game, I hardly think you are experiencing "fallout." Of course I obsess over plenty of pop culture events, so 'judge not...' definitely applies here.