In Class/OutClassed

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Anne Dalke's picture

Welcome to InClass/OutClassed: On the Uses of a Liberal Education, an Emily Balch Seminar offered in Fall 2011 @ Bryn Mawr College. This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to. The first thing to keep in mind is that it's not a site for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts." It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking. The idea here is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.

So who are you writing for? Primarily for yourself, and for others in both sections of our course. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in. That's the second thing to keep in mind here. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about.

We're glad to have you along, and hope you come to both enjoy and value our shared exploration of class, in education and outside it. Fee free to comment on any post below, or to POST YOUR THOUGHTS HERE.

HSBurke's picture

Academic Writing

As I'm learning, I have formed a very narrow definition of what is means to write academically, but still, the image that pops into my head when I think about this style is something long, stuffy, boring and unrelateable. Through my classes this semester, I have been exposed to academic writing that fails to fit this description, and thus is more enjoyable for me to read and understand. However, when I am asked to write an academic paper, I know that, most of the time, the more personal, anecdotal style is not what my professors are asking for. Because of this, I still struggle with feeling very stifled by the idea of "academic writing".

Additionally, I had a difficult time grappling with the style of our recent research paper. Taking data from interviews and coupling it with our own interpretations was something that I hadn't done before (outside of journalistic style for my school newspaper). At times I felt that my voice was becoming lost on all of the very precise language I was attempting to use. But at other times, I felt that my interpretations were taking over the paper and that my voice had too much of a presence. That particular assignment required balance from me, and although I struggled, I think that by attempting this new style, I was able to further my abilities in conquering academic writing without losing my own writing style in the process. 

Chandrea's picture

Different Forms of Expression?

I was discussing my confusion on the next assignment we have to do for this class with my performance group earlier, and my cluelessness reminded me of how dependent I am on writing academic papers. I remembered worrying, "What do you mean it doesn't have to be in the form of an academic paper?!" I suppose this thought reinforces the idea that this form of expressing our ideas is restrictive but I kind of like it because it's convenient for me. I'm so used to writing papers in this class as well as other classes and I'm reluctant to doing anything other than that. That's all we did in high school! I mean, I could do a poster or something but I really am not that creative/artistic as I'd like to be. Maybe a slam poetry presentation would work for me because I think those kinds of things are fun. I just see writing papers as a cop-out so maybe I'll try something else. I never expected to come to college and be told to do anything but write papers when it came to expressing my ideas...

ssaludades's picture

Communication with Different Perspectives

what ideas do you have for other ways to express and communicate ideas?

My little brother has a learning disability: From when he was a toddler up to the present, he had trouble with his communication skills in forming sentences and coming up with the right words. in turn, in elementary school, reading and writing became difficult tasks for him. Even now, his reading and speaking skills are not up to grade level par. Nonetheless, we always had the inclination that he was bright as quantitive problems and art came easy to him. Since we knew that he had communication problems, when he got frustrated with the reading and writing required for different subjects besides English, we would always help him to provide it visually or in a math problem. 

 His disability helped me remember that people view information differently. Knowing this, in order to teach, we need to recognize these different perspectives and adapt the present information to the way that they see things - in the way that they see things. My brother’s visual learning is just one example, but it’s interesting to wonder how other disabilities - dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia - would have information presented as well. 

nbnguyen's picture

Problems with academic writing

I think the biggest problem wih academic writing is that it's too logical and rational. It prevents us from expressing our emotion. However, emotion is also a way of knowing besides reason, perception and language. First, emotion is a significant factor to form intuition. We sometimes just intuitively know something without thinking a lot about it. For example, it 's human nature to keep away from huge animals. Second, emotion is also the motivation to gain knowledge. Wrights brothers would never invented airplane if they hadn't had passion toward flying. And at that time,their  ideas about flying was totally based on their emotion (passion) rather than reason (this idea was contradictory to gravity force in Physics). However, academic writing underestimates the importance of emotion in gaining knowledge. Furthermore, it's somehow impersonal which prevents us from express ourselves and sharing our experiences and point of view.

Utitofon's picture

The flaws of academic writing

I feel that formal writing obstructs the free flow of emotion and makes academic robots of us all. As students, it forces us to focus less on how convinced we are of our ideas, but on the impression it will make on our readers. Formal writing glorifies abstract thought; it appears classy to sound complex and demeaning to speak simply.  The more high sounding and philosophical we get, the more our audience takes our words seriously. We can see this in the reactions of our class to the writings Dewey in comparison to Williams. Yet not everyone can understand or relate to abstract generalizations, so formal writing selects its audience and leaves the lay ones in the cold. Academic writing is indifferent to the varied backgrounds of its potential readers.  In some respects, academic writing can be viewed as an egotistical attempt to leave your reader feeling awed by you. It is rarely a conversation, but a lecture.

Academic writing in a sense robs us of intellectual ownership, we lose authority as Percy asserted, because we have to back up our thoughts with sources.  The message is that we don’t have a right to think for ourselves, we have to think through the eyes of the ‘experts’, and consciously adjust our point of view to fit in with theirs. It perpetuates the idea that there is a group of knowers and that the rest of us, the ‘know not’s cannot go off on our own tangent. No, our ideas have to be validated by the opinions of others. Yet, who says the experts are infallible?

thamid's picture

Class dimensions of academic writing

The class dimensions of academic writing seem to be very limited to x number of pages. There is an introduction, a body, and a conclusion, and of course a works cited. There is always a thesis that needs to be supported or refuted. This type of academic writing seems to be the “norm” for many professors and teachers. I am not saying that this type of writing is bad, but it is monotonous. Personally I feel that I cannot truly express all my ideas, thoughts, and questions, in these types of papers because I am more worried about structure, length, and other writing conventions. For these types of papers I feel like I am writing them because I have to instead of having to writing AND wanting to write it. I wonder if this type of writing became the “standard” so teachers and professors can clearly see what point is trying to be made rather than having to figure it out for themselves and really reading what is trying to be said.

JHarmon's picture

Identity Formation and Class

Hey Everyone

Here's a cool article I read last year in the New York Times called "What Is It About 20-Somethings?" It kind of piggybacks on a couple of topics we've discussed such as our mini-discussion of forming identities in this time of our lives. However, after today's conversation, my perceptions of this article changed and seem much more classed than before. 

Essentially, the researcher in the article argues that there is a new stage of life similar to adolescence that happens in a person's 20's. We take a longer time to grow up and being self-actualized or find our purpose. However, what about people who can't extend their periods of self-discovery? What about those too time poor or money poor for the luxury of a few more years of "self indulgence?"

Some of these issues are addressed in the article, some are not. Overall, though, it's a good read. :)

Read On: 



JHarmon's picture

Being Perfect

As I think about what writing “like an academic” means, I can't help but think of formality and perfection. Tied up in dense theory or personal story, the author's we read about somehow articulate their ideas in a way that I feel I never could. Their ideas are described so well that describing them any other way could never do them justice.Yes, these works have been edited, pared down, and abstracted to fit the goals of our assertions. However, in this process of editing, paring, and abstracting, how much of our voice are we deleting and muting? How much of ourselves do we take out of our own equation?

ssaludades's picture

Language, Class and Education

In class, it was mentioned that informal writing made material more personable. Decoding theories into basic terms helps some people relate to the information more easily and in turn, helped them apply it to their lives. In turn, this made me wonder: what are the boundaries of formal writing? If informal writing conveys the message with equal efficiency, is it even necessary to follow the rules of grammar? For those who don’t know certain terms or aren’t able to understand convoluted language, will they be barred from valuable knowledge and a certain level of critical thinking?

In this instance, I am reminded of my parents who are immigrants of this country. If they had not received the level of education that they had had, they would not have experienced their life in America and in turn, have the same opportunities as they do now. They would not have met the people that they do and learn from them. Even now, in being of a different culture, certain terms in the English language and certain actions as a language of our culture (eg. table etiquette, certain mannerisms, etc.) can still remain foreign to them . As a result, they may still have boundaries to overcome in order to achieve success in American society. In any case, as education is class coded and as education has deeply effected the way in which people are able to communicate, in turn, language can be class coded as well.

jccohen's picture

our final celebration and performances!

Our final ESem celebration and performances will be Sunday, Dec. 11, 7-9 pm in the English House Lecture Hall!  


Each group will have 10 minutes to present/perform/engage/teach and learn with us as you see fit …


Performance groups are:

Tanya, Meg, Samyuktha, Michaela, Jess

Nancy, Hayley, Jillian

Shannon, Serena

Ellen, Sam

Amy, Genesis, Sophia, Laura, Pan

Morgan, Elissa, Jia

Rae, Jacqueline, Mfon, Chandrea

Kamila, Jordan


…looking forward!

HSBurke's picture

Today's discussion

I enjoyed today's discussion and activity about class markers. I didn't feel like I was being called out when asked to write about my own life in a public setting, until I actually was called out. It will make it easier to tell you all that I am the one whose house has themed rooms. I can definitely see how that could be perceived as a class marker. However, in many cases, I don't believe it is. For example, I never expressed how many rooms my house is, which could also be an indicator of class. If I had said that while each room in my home is themed, I live in a two bedroom apartment, could that have changed things? Now I wonder, do people assume that I am from the higher class because my roommate and I have extensively decorated our room? Do decorations have to be expensive? or even cost anything? Personally, I didn't buy any of our decorations: I snipped from the NYT, printed my own photos and made coffee filter flowers. This is why I think that the idea that BMC's Project Dorm Room was classist isn't necessarily true, and also why I think today's activity was inevitably flawed. It's impossible to make class assumptions based on things like decoration, when there are so many other aspects at play that we aren't aware of. 

alesnick's picture

Week Six of our Diablog: which of the following have posed the greatest challenge to you in making the transition to college?


HSBurke's picture

Class and Thanksgiving

Here's my little run-in with class issues over Turkey Day:

My aunt works as a server at a fancy restaurant. Catering to the non-culinary types, this restaurant was open on Thanksgiving, and thinking that the tips would be awesome on such a holiday, my aunt decided to work a double shift. When my aunt called us later that night, however, she reported a not-so-pleasant customer experience. Apparently, the tips were stingy, the customers rude and the overall demeanor depressing. I definitely thought that the atmosphere would be very festive and family-like because of the holiday, but it seemed to be just the opposite. It got me thinking: did people look down upon my aunt even more so that night because they assumed that if she was working on Thanksgiving, she obviously needed the money and that she was likely from the lower class. Or possibly that she didn't have a family or friends to go home to so that meant that she didn't need as much tip or to be treated civilly? Waitressing is such a classed occupation as it is, and it was interesting to me to see how the time/season (Thanksgiving) made it even more so. Any thoughts on why her customers acted like this? Is it just the nature of a bunch of grumpy people who don't have a homemade turkey dinner to look forward to? Or is there a stigma associated with those of us who have to OR CHOOSE to work on a holiday?

kganihanova's picture

Education and Work: Can they coexist?

My thanksgiving had its high and low points. High point: Seeing my family and calling my grandmama. Low point: the parental nagging. One point of contention was with my father, who thinks that being a student, all I should do is do my class work. He wonderfully suggested that I quit my job just for finals and studied the rest of the semester. I tried to convince him that I really didn't work that much and that I could handle it but he insisted that work does not mesh with student life. I deduced that with his savings, he could take off and focus on his research versus myself who needs to work in order to fund my life. Is the role of a student solely in the classroom or is it outside as well? Or is it a "stage of life" kind of thing?

Rae Hamilton's picture

From a fight, to an interview, to a discussion:Paper 10

Talking about class is wierd. Paper 10, was equally as odd. My paper focused less on the interviews I had and more on the workshop and the resulting conversation I had with one of my dorm mates afterwards. The whole was kind of awkward, but the more you talk about something, the less awkward it becomes. Which leads me to believe that maybe, sometimes, it is the awkward things that need to be talked about more than anything else. 

Rae Hamilton's picture

From a fight, to an interview, to a discussion:Paper 10

Talking about class is wierd. Paper 10, was equally as odd. My paper focused less on the interviews I had and more on the workshop and the resulting conversation I had with one of my dorm mates afterwards. The whole was kind of awkward, but the more you talk about something, the less awkward it becomes. Which leads me to believe that maybe, sometimes, it is the awkward things that need to be talked about more than anything else. 

Rae Hamilton's picture

Little Bee

Hey, I was just wondering if anyone else finished Little Bee. Looking at the syllabus, I seriously doubt we will be able to dedicate all the time needed to the novel. So I thought here was a good space to start. I both hated and loved Little Bee. I loved it for the simple fact that it was a great book, with compelling characters, and a subtle but important political message. Yet, I hated the book for the same reasons, it was so sad, so deep and profound, I feel like a weight has been added to my mind. I finished the book wondering if I was suppose to feel hopeful or desolate. Even though I finished it some days ago, I am still not sure if Little Bee, is a gritty story that offers hope or a hopeful story that has its gritty moments. Also, the time in which we read the book impacted me greatly. Thanksgiving, to me has always been a holiday where America is at its least petty. We have so much to be grateful for, and Little Bee has reminded me of that fact. I wish I could keep all the feelings I have for this book and apply to my daily life, in the hopes that I could remember to be thankful. 

On another note, how does everyone feel on Little Bee becoming a movie, with Nicole Kidman playing Sarah?!?

LJ's picture

Reflection on Essay

The interview process was really interesting. I did not expect some individuals to be as honest as they were. One interviewee, without being asked, told me some very personal facts I did not expect. In addition, it felt a little odd to be interviewing students when I myself am still a student. Furthermore, when writing the essay I kept thinking about how hard it is to anaylze research I collected myself. When reading an article the author explains what they researched for you. I believe this is why this essay was particularly hard to write because I had to explain what my research meant or even what my purpose was. Overall, it was a learning process that was a little but scary but I learned a lot about how to interview individuals.

Serena's picture

On Paper #10

First, concerning the interviewing, I was really nervous and actually waited until the last minute to do all of my interviews because I kept mulling over how to approach people to ask them to help me out. Ultimately I asked two out of three via email. I found that once I actually got it going, I enjoyed it, mostly because I got to know some intimate things about people who I had been spending time around and interacting with for the past couple of months. In one particular instance, I would have never guessed the information that I would get.

As to writing the paper, I actually had a good amount of difficulty. I had all my information and knew what I wanted to say with it, but it was very hard for me to turn that into a three-page paper and ultimately my paper actually turned out being just a little over two pages, which I'm not proud of. I would really like to expand on the paper sometime, but I just really don't know how I would do that now. Maybe after speaking further with my writing buddies and Anne, I'll figure out what to do with it!

MVW1993's picture

Reflection on Essay

            I found this essay particularly challenging to write simply because I have no experience with writing a research essay based on personal interviews. Doing the interviews, for example, was completely new to me, but I found it to be a very rewarding experience because it gave me a chance to understand another person’s perspective on a subject that I felt I was struggling to comprehend fully. Interviewing three people provided me with three fresh perspectives about socioeconomic class perceptions based on working/not working on campus, and better enabled me to form my own informed opinion on the subject. Though my first interview was a bit awkward, I felt that I gained confidence as the interviews continued and the experience has taught me a lot about how to conduct interviews in the future.