Archive for the ‘University of North Georgia’ Category

The Plural, the Possessive, and Contractions   Leave a comment

With Ruminations About Students, Technology, and Pre-College Education

The atrocious writing of many college students alarms me.  I wonder how they got into college without knowing, for example, that “it’s” is not the same as “its.”  “Its'” is not “its” either.  I know whereof I write, after years of teaching U.S. History survey courses (mostly the first part, through 1877) at a public university in Georgia.  To be fair, many students also write beautifully and understand English usage and grammar well.  This post is not about them and their delightful essays, however.

Many students seem confused about how to make a singular word plural.  Consider, O reader, the word “colonist.”  I am tired of reading essays and quiz answers in which pupils use it as if it is plural.  As they should have learned in elementary school, “colonists” is plural and “colonist” is singular.”  The way to make many words plural is to add an “s” to the end.

Many students confuse the plural and possessive forms of words.  Some of them labor under the delusion that “colonist’s” is plural, not singular possessive.   Alas, they are not alone.  One needs to go no further than the comments sections of websites to find examples of mangling the English language.  An example off the Internet is present in every weekly sales paper for a small chain of grocery stores in an around Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, where I live.  The sales papers indicate the stores “with deli’s.”  You, O reader, can probably think of local examples easily too.

As a matter of fact, one should use an apostrophe to create the plural forms sometimes, as in letters.  For example, I might calculate the percentage of students I assigned A’s at the end of last semester.  I would have “as” without the apostrophe.   The problem regarding apostrophes is using them when one should not.

I do not know what is so confusing for so many people regarding “it’s” and “its.”  “It’s” is the contraction for “it is.”  “Its” is a singular possessive pronoun.  This is simple, is it not?  It should be.

Although I teach history, I also have to teach some English usage and grammar, unfortunately.  I make students write essays, not take tests.  Each student has about a month to write 8-10 pages on a prompt he or she selects from a list of three or four options.  I also provide the pupils with detailed instructions and writing guidelines.  When I add the book report to the list of writing assignments, I assign each student to write 28-36 pages during the course of the semester.  This is hardly draconian, except on yours truly, for I have to read all of this writing.  (Do the math.)  Yet some pupils, as they write in course evaluations, consider 28-36 pages to be “a lot of writing.”  The length of the writing assignments (28-36 pages spread across four papers in one semester) is not excessive, but the accumulation of their bad writing and their complaining is.

I refrain from criticizing teachers who have preceded me in these pupils’ lives.  Not only do I lack sufficient information to arrive at a conclusion, but I also understand that teachers have inattentive students.  Many factors can cause students not to pay attention.  Life at home might be troublesome.  A pupil might be hungry.  One might be fatigued.  A student might have an especially short attention span.  Or one might simply not care.  Regardless of the reason or set of reasons applicable in any given case, a reality teachers know well is that what they taught and what certain students learned bear little or no similarity to each other.  Communication is, by definition, an interactive process.  Whenever Person #1 sends a message to Person #2, who receives it and understands it as Person #1 intended, Person #1 has communicated with Person #2.  A number of factors might garble the message, even if Person #1 has sent it as best as possible.

I do not blame teachers overall.  Yes, some teachers are better at their jobs than others are, but teachers deserve much more credit than they receive.  We, as a society, require that they do more than they ought to have to do.  Parents and guardians, for example, have much responsibility; we should not shift any of that to teachers.  Yet we do.    Not only do I blame many parents and guardians, especially those who do not accept their share of responsibility and make like needlessly difficult for educators, but I also assign blame to inattentive and lazy students who rely too much on technology.  “Technology” is a blanket term for tools, from the wheel to smart phones.  Technology is not the problem.  It is, after all, neutral; how one uses it is good or bad.  I know from one-on-one discussions with certain students that they rely on their computers (word processing programs, to be precise) with regard to writing.  These pupils have not, therefore, internalized English usage and grammar as well as they should have.  These students’ writing would be superior without computers; they would know how to write in a literate manner without word processing programs.  The fault lies with these pupils.

The technology, in fact, can be overwhelmingly positive.  I recall the electronic typewriter I used during my undergraduate years.  I remember being grateful when the professor required end notes, not footnotes.  I also recall having to retype pages because of a few mistakes.  Word processing programs are godsends in my life.  I do not, however, mistake the spell check function for proofreading.  Many students do.

I harbor concerns for college students who write poorly, as evident in their difficulties relating to the plural, the possessive, and contractions.  Many of them will apply for employment that will require them to write in an official capacity.  For some the application and interview process will entail going to a room and writing on paper.  Or perhaps they will, as part of the process, have to write a statement on the application itself.  There is also the matter of the cover letter, assuming that the employer in question reads it.  The process will expose these applicants’ inadequate language skills, unless they improve those skills in the meantime.

I recall having excellent teachers as well as parents who valued my education.  I also remember being an attentive student.  The factors of school, home, and pupil are essential in education.  They are crucial to one knowing the difference between lessons and lesson’s.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

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Posted July 1, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Language, University of North Georgia

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The Definite Article   Leave a comment

Above:  The

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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One should use the definite article (the) cautiously.  I argue this point, for I prefer to speak and write accurately.  I also like for others to do the same.  The misuse of “the” renders one’s argument objectively false by overstating one’s case.  Such shoddy discourse annoys me.

As I have noticed, many college students have been (and are) overly found of “the.”  During my years of teaching U.S. history survey courses in college, I have emphasized the fact that many colonists in what became the United States remained loyal to the British Empire during the American Revolutionary period.  In stating this plainly I have manifested fidelity to objective reality.  I have also instructed pupils both orally and in writing not to write of “the colonists” as if all colonists were of one political mind and warned these students.  Nevertheless, many students have not heeded my instructions to write of the past accurately in their essays.  I have graded those essays accordingly.

Another fault of misusing “the” is applying it in the spirit of invective.

The ______s insert negative stereotype here.

Infamously, for example, the Gospel of John mentions “the Jews” (in most English-language translations), although the Greek word is actually a geographical term sometimes.  Whether the term should be “the Jews” or “the Judeans” in English in any given verse, the issue of invective remains.  In the case of the Gospel of John, how can one avoid reading those passages without considering the millennia of Christian anti-Semitism inspired partially by the invective in that text?

In 2017 we continue to have problems with invective, often expressed with the misuse of the definite article.  Human nature is constant, after all.  One might engage in partisan invective, for example.  Or one might be a racist or some other variety of bigot, perhaps with regard to religion.  Or maybe one might be merely an unrepentant ethnocentrist and Nativist.  Either way, one engages in stereotyping, thereby overlooking the diversity inherent in any population.  One therefore engages in the sin of judging others.  One also makes objectively false statements.

Shall we strive to love our neighbors as ourselves and to think, speak, and write objectively correctly?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 27, 2017 COMMON ERA

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The Folly and Immorality of Campus Carry   Leave a comment

Above:  The Flag of Georgia

Image in the Public Domain

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On July 1, in the State of Georgia, the new “campus carry” law will go into effect.

As long as this law (as well as the previous, vetoed version) has been on the legislative table, it has concerned me.  I, as a classroom instructor on a university campus, have become jaded about postsecondary students overall over the years.  This fact, added to my negative view of human nature (depravity as objective reality, not an article of faith), has caused me to conclude that this law is a recipe for very bad–even lethal–results.

The version of the law that passed the General Assembly and received Governor Nathan Deal’s signature does include certain exemptions, such as residence halls, sports venues, day care centers, and offices.  But what constitutes an office?  This matter is not always clear for certain employees of the University System of Georgia.  Another exemption is any classroom in which, at the time, a dual-enrolled high school student is present.  Yet, if a high school student not dual-enrolled is present in that classroom, that space is not exempt from the “campus carry” law.  Furthermore, any common space–such as a dining hall or a lobby–is a space in which someone with a concealed gun permit may legally carry a concealed gun, even if a high school student is present.  Regarding sports venues, guns are forbidden there, but, as of today, there will no University System of Georgia policy allowing the posting of signage indicating this.  Drunken tailgaters outside the sports venues will have the right of carry guns, however.

This morning I attended a town hall meeting led by the university chief of police.  He, for professional reasons, did not express his opinion.  He read the text of the law and of the statement from the office of the Chancellor of the University System.  He also went over established questions and answers.  Many of the answers were indefinite, indicating that the University System had yet to provide guidance regarding that particular circumstance.  Then the chief answered new questions.  As I listened intently, I became more concerned.  Professors and staff members asked about their particular and practical circumstances, ranging from chemistry labs to testing centers to the blurring of the lines between common space and office space in the library.  The chief had no answer other than the University System had yet to provide guidance.  After the meeting I heard some professors indicate that they were going on the job market.

The chief will lead more campus town hall meetings–later this month and again in August, as the University System offers more guidance.

Those who voted for this law and the governor who signed it did not think through the plethora of details sufficiently.  They created a huge mess, one that is leading campus police departments to develop programs to train faculty and staff to talk down armed and emotionally disturbed students.

I am cautious by nature.  For this reason I tend not to make wild predictions or embrace conspiracy theories.  I do make two predictions, however:

  1. Lawsuits will ensue as the University System offers guidance, faculty and staff members follow it, and individuals carrying concealed guns object to the rules, claiming that these rules violate the law.  The United States does have a litigious society, after all.
  2. More than one person will die or suffer injury because of this law.

Legislators and the Governor will be morally responsible for those deaths and injuries.

The gun culture is alive and well in the State of Georgia.  For example, we have a law permitting people to carry weapons onto church property unless the church forbids it.  Fortunately, the Episcopal Dioceses of Georgia and Atlanta have such a ban.  I reject the idea that the answer to the problem of gun violence is more guns.  Adding guns to the equation makes as much sense to me as pouring gasoline on a fire and mistaking the gasoline for flame retardant.

May God deliver us from ourselves and each other.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

Course Evaluations and Classroom Technology   Leave a comment

Especially Regarding PowerPoint

Spring Semester ended recently.  Nine days ago the contents of my students’ evaluations of me and of my course became available to me.  I, as a classroom instructor, was understandably curious about their ratings and comments.  Over the years I have found them to be (A) generally quite different from the depiction of me at ratemyprofessor.com and (B) occasionally helpful, occupying the category of constructive criticism.

Usually, though, I have found these course evaluations to be mostly useless.  For example, I copied the course objectives verbatim from the university and pasted them into my syllabi, yet some students thought I had not stated the course objectives clearly in those documents.  Also, I critiqued drafts of essays whenever students asked me to do so, but one pupil criticized me for having no involvement in assignments outside of the classroom.  Furthermore, I organized the material (as many students acknowledged) yet some accused me of being disorganized in my teaching.

My interpretation of the last criticism is that those who wrote it really meant that they would have preferred for me to have used PowerPoint in the classroom.  But, as one student told me, he was grateful that I did not use that technology.  He had become accustomed to copying PowerPoint slides for other courses and had found that procedure mind-numbing.  He enjoyed my emphasis on analyzing the material, he said.

Technology is useful is my lessons.  I enjoy being able,  for example, to show my students the full text of the Stamp Act (1765) and to use a website to adjust historical dollar amounts for inflation.  However, PowerPoint is useless in my classroom.  I recall that almost every PowerPoint presentation to which someone has subjected me has entailed he or she reading the slides.  PowerPoint is a useful tool in certain settings and for some subjects, but I avoid the technology.

Besides, my teaching style is not amenable to reading from a script, notes, or PowerPoint slides.  No, my instructional style is more discussion-based.  I master the germane material, follow skeletal notes that function mostly to remind me to cover certain topics, and use my memory.  I speak authoritatively and from my knowledge.

This style, I know, is foreign to many students, spoon-fed notes (often via PowerPoint) for years. I want them to think critically, however.  I know that this exceeds the capacity of many of my pupils.  This is not entirely their fault, but I must raise the bar, I know.  I realize that I will do them no favors by not raising the bar.

I found no constructive criticism in the course evaluations this time.  I did, however, learn how oblivious some of my students were to objective reality and how dependent upon PowerPoint they were.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 24, 2017 COMMON ERA

Posted May 24, 2017 by neatnik2009 in University of North Georgia

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Unprepared for College, Part I   Leave a comment

I have been involved in postsecondary education professionally since 2004, with a hiatus during parts of 2005 and 2006.  My years of experience have led me to conclude that many of my pupils have been unprepared for college.  In fact, if their college-level work is a reliable indicator, they were also unprepared for high school.  That they graduated disappoints me yet does not surprise me.  For a month in 2010 I rated essays from the high school graduation test for the State of Georgia.  During those weeks I became discouraged regarding the state’s standards for acceptable writing, for I received negative feedback for being allegedly too strict.  Those in charge of the rating process did not want me to continue to work for them.

Four main areas of deficiencies alarm me.  The first is historical knowledge, for I teach history courses, usually focusing on the United States.  Many of my pupils have entered my courses poorly informed regarding the past, especially that of the United States, almost always their native land.  They have, therefore, been at a disadvantage in a survey course about U.S. history, a subject they have studied in elementary, middle, and high schools.  Their knowledge of global history, a subject related to U.S. history, has frequently been worse.  I wonder how one can possibly understand current events properly without a grasp of germane and preceding events eludes me.

The second alarming area of deficiency is writing.  Each semester I provide a document I call the Course Manual.  It is 16 pages long, including the title page.  That document includes two pages of advice I should not have to offer to college students.  This counsel includes the importance of using paragraphs, of not confusing possessive and singular possessive forms of words, of knowing the difference between “it’s” and “its,” and of forming the plural version of a word ending in -ist by adding an “s.”  Regardless of how often I inform certain students that “colonist” is never plural, some pupils continue to use it as if it is.  Written literacy is essential, is it not?

Gaps in the vocabularies of some students also bother me.  They are especially inexcusable when the pupils in question have grown up in the United States.  I have had to define terms such as “tyranny,” “mob rule,” “treason,” and “traitor.”  How can one expect to function effectively as an adult without a proper vocabulary?

The inability or unwillingness of many students to obey deadlines and manage their time effectively also disturbs me.  During each course I assign three essays per student.  Every pupil has just over a month to write 8-10 pages based on one of three or four prompts.  I also assign a book report, which comes due late in the semester.  I announce the deadline at the beginning of the course.  Nevertheless, some students submit assignments they have obviously written hastily and edited poorly.  Others submit no paper at all.

To be fair, I have also taught many excellent students and skilled stylists of the English language.  I have concluded that no racial, ethnic, generational, and gender categories predict whether one will be an excellent student and writer.  If I were to leave these points unstated in this post, I would leave an inaccurate impression.

Nevertheless, I perceive that the problems of which I have written have become worse.  They have certainly become more frequent and prominent among students I have taught.  Professors of English composition have my sympathy.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 12, 2016 COMMON ERA

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Posted March 12, 2016 by neatnik2009 in Education and Language, University of North Georgia

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Spare Me Your Secondhand Smoke   Leave a comment

No Smoking

Above:  “Smoking Not Allowed Here” (1897)

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-56425

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Among the realities of life in society is that, whatever we do affects not just ourselves but others.  Thus, if we are responsible, we will act of out a sense of responsibility to and for each other.  This principle constitutes one of the foundations of my ethics.

I teach for the University of North Georgia (UNG), a successor of Gainesville State College (GSC), for which I also taught.  Prior to the consolidation of UNG I taught for GSC part of the time on a satellite campus of Lanier Technical College at Winder, Georgia, a short drive from Athens.  I parked my car in the back and entered the building in the rear.  One day, as I approached the building, I noticed an inconsiderate person smoking while standing next to the sign announcing that there was a ban on smoking on the campus.  I pointed out this fact to the young man, but he indicated that he did not care.  At that point I told him precisely what I thought of him.  What came up, came out.  My use of such language has long been rare, but sometimes people have acted in ways that have justified occasional spice in my vocabulary.

There is abundant evidence of the effects of secondhand smoke.  Given that fact alone, I harbor no sense of guilt over choosing to vacate the premises rather than continue exposure to secondhand smoke when I have the opportunity to leave.  I am also physically intolerant of cigarette and cigar smoke; my throat becomes irritated, my eyes water, et cetera.  On certain occasions when I have not been able to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, smokers have stood in front of me much too long, despite the obvious nature of my physical discomfort.  They have not seemed to care.

I also understand the science of addiction in broad terms.  Furthermore, I have heard and read accounts by smokers (current and former) about their struggles to quit.  None of those factors cancel out or reduce the moral mandate to act out of a sense of responsibility to and for others, especially those in one’s physical proximity.  Smokers, please spare the rest of us your secondhand smoke.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 29, 2016 COMMON ERA

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