Interacting with the Real World


I got the latest edition of English Journal this week, and while I have been remiss in keeping up with past issues, I jumped for joy to see this one, which centers on one of my favorite areas of study: Logic and Critical Reasoning. I try to teach critical thinking to all of my classes, and I was excited to see what ideas were included to reinforce this absolutely vital universal subdiscipline.

I am happy to announce that I have not yet been disappointed.

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Forgive me, dear reader(s), for my absence; as I noted in an earlier post, I’ve been busy selling a house (which we sold in only about 2 weeks after putting it on the market ourselves), moving into a new house (which is bigger and only one story), and preparing for where I am currently – the Teaching East Asian Literature in the High School conference at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. So far, the week has been amazing, and I have learned sooooo much about East Asian history and literature.

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Having kids has given me an acquaintance with health care that I virtually would have never thought possible. My boys are not the unhealthiest of children, but their conditions (severe autism and apraxia for my elder son, slightly less severe autism and mild hypotonia for my younger) have required some further investigation.

We had one of these investigative moments this past year with my younger son, specifically regarding the possibility of a metabolic disorder causing his hypotonia (and perhaps contributing to his autism and global delays as well). To get more clues, blood work was needed to test for the level of certain amino acids and other chemical markers. One of these markers was lactic acid: elevated levels might indicate a metabolic disorder and provide something for a geneticist to work with.

There was a problem with this, however: lactic acid levels tend to rise with muscle exertion, so the blood needed to be drawn from my 18-month-old son without causing him to exert himself while we were trying to get blood.

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Understatement of the century: I am an argumentative person. This is no truer than when I am on the Internet. (This strip is me.)

I have been arguing in various Internet forums – message boards, chat rooms, and more recently, facebook statuses/comments – ever since I really got into the Internet roughly 10 years ago. And I have very consistently noticed one trend in the most heated of battles that I feel I must speak out about. I call it the “more research” gambit.

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I had the unique experience (for me) a little over a week ago of getting into a discussion with my mother about politics. This is not a common occurrence in the least: I try to stay out of political discussions in person with people both that I know well personally and that have distinctly different views than I do. (My father is one of these people. Strange how opinions can diverge so much in just a generation.)

But ultimately, what the discussion ended up focusing on was not a political issue – although one was the initial catalyst for the conversation – but rather an epistemological and ethical issue.

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I generally don’t divulge many details about what is happening in my school, and I have tried to keep a modicum of anonymity (although I know that the curious reader could probably put the pieces together). That’s for my protection as well as my students, none of whom deserve to be dragged into blog posts by name (or even gender, where I can avoid it). I know as a first-year teacher that I am in somewhat of a precarious spot, despite the fact that my position itself is not anywhere close to being on the chopping block and that I have pleased administrators enough that I think I’ll be around next year. (It also helps that I’m the third high school English teacher in as many years; the position needs some consistency.)

But I have to write about something that is happening at my school right now. It’s simply too much for me to keep in.

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That’s one of the most debated questions in terms of language, in my experience. It’s an important question because there is at least a general consensus that there is good language and bad language – acceptable and unacceptable language – and a common question because everyone seems to have an opinion on the subject, although they tend not to be exceptionally informed opinions. It’s also important because there are plenty of people – some who have knowledge of language and some who really don’t – who have decided at some point that they are the arbiters of what is good and true and what is not and dispense advice (often unsolicited) or make disparaging comments about language use, be it word usage, grammar, mechanics, or style.

I don’t consider myself an expert on language use by any means, but I think my interest in language is perhaps greater than the average layperson: I have studied writing theory, I have read grammar texts critically for personal edification, I regularly read blogs about language and try to keep up with what people are talking about regarding language, and I’m a certified English language teacher. I don’t claim that my advice on language is gospel, and I stress to my students that comments on written language especially are mostly tentative (even though I think it would be prudent for them to take my advice). Generally, I think I know what I’m talking about, but I’m open to correction from people who know more about the subject, primarily linguists.

This in mind, I’m pretty used to people making comments about language when they lack relevant training, like that old proscription against terminating prepositions. But I still confess that it puzzles me when I see people who are qualified in the area of the English language railing against things about which they really should know better.

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