Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School


Over the next three days, I am going to reach out to some of you over email. This will happen in waves, starting with Period 4 tonight and continuing as often as I find time to read through your abatement profiles. Check your BHS email address regularly.

I’m going to have to start with the students whose self-assessments are missing, incomplete, or inaccurate. In rare cases, this means telling you that you actually deserve a higher profile score than you’ve thought; in most cases, this means telling you that you deserve a lower score. That’s not going to be easy to read, my Geisterfahrer, not least of all because most of the inflated self-assessments slip into the shade of the Dunning-Kruger effect. You don’t know you deserve a lower score, and that is, at least in part, why you deserve a lower score.

I want you to remember a few things. First, the enemy of accuracy is that Skinner-box desire for a particular number. Call it the curse of the High Honor Roll. Second, this is one of those points where opinion shades off into an error of fact; you might truly and fervently believe you deserve a 92 for a performance that can’t earn above a 72. Yet that comes down to you, as well: It’s you who provides me any missing details I need to make this decision, which is why particularly vague or unsubstantiated reasoning echoes your overall limitations. Third, if you’ve been reading what’s required of you over the last month, you know that you have ample opportunity to be honest with yourself and take home the shiny average you so badly want to slap on the refrigerator.

The answer to your probable cognitive dissonance is to make a choice: You can conference with me or accept my feedback without conferencing. If you choose the latter, you accept the score I’ve indicated; if you choose the former, you must make a second choice between talking with me over email and meeting with me in person.

Once I’ve dealt with the students whose self-assessments are missing, incomplete, or inaccurate, I will use whatever time and energy I have left to respond to the rest of you. And if my time and energy is depleted before the end of school, I make you this promise: I will have read what you’ve written me, and I will be proud and honored by how insightful and honest and effective your work is. You should be proud, too. You’ve done all I’ve asked of you, and you’ve done it to the best of your abilities. In fact, if I can be allowed one moment of sentimentality, you’ve given a very old man a very new kind of hope for what this classroom can be.

Until we reach the foot of the next mountain,

Mr. Eure

Cooking the Books

Before the end of Monday’s class, you must start the grade abatement process by giving me the score you believe you deserve this quarter. If you haven’t already, you will be required to complete the handwritten portion of the rubric. Any other writing you’ve prepared can be submitted tomorrow or over the ensuing week.

Honesty and accuracy are the most important elements of this process.  Many of you are a 6. Some push into a 7, but the particulars are important: 7 indicates an impeccable work ethic, a strong performance in all aspects of the course, a consistent and reliable approach to metacognition, and so on. Did you keep up with regular reflections on what you learned each week? Did you finish your final essay when you needed to? Have you used every single period in class productively? Did you read everything you were told to in the final series of instructional posts? If not, a 7 is hard to justify.

Getting into the 8 and 9 range is obviously even more difficult, yet that’s where most of you want to be. A reliance on scores of 90+ has been bred into you over a decade of formal schooling. We’ve covered the reasons for this—and the deleterious impact of it—enough this semester, but there is one question worth asking again: How do we reconcile honesty and accuracy in grade abatement with a school culture obsessed with grades?

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Water Bear Facts

Tardigrade don't care.

Tardigrade don’t care.

Note: The collective goal outlined in this post has been raised to a 7. More information to follow.

In the first guide I gave you on grade abatement, I said that I’d like you to become a kind of academic polyextremophile. After the AP exam, I sort of launched you into space to see if you had adapted. We’re now in Week 3 of that experiment.

To the right of this post is a section labeled Current U/E Score, where U/E stands for Ursus Ephemeris, the website you are ostensibly redesigning and repopulating as an extension of your autodidactic work this quarter. (It is also the second time you’ve been asked to make your writing authentic in this way; and, in fact, you’ll need that original “Pushing the Message” post to do this work.) The score is based on the rubric being used for the second half of your final exam, and it reflects the most current assessment of the site overall.

Have you clicked on and explored/revisited each of those hyperlinks? Good. Two things:

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Final Salvo, Part 3

The last piece of this puzzle is your final grade abatement justification. This post reviews a few of the changes that have been made. First, there is a rubric now to help you focus your thinking:

You still need to review the guide to grade abatement and then read over everything else I’ve given you, including the more recent additions to the list on the side of this site. This rubric has language for each tier that should help you perform your rhinoceros work, however, and it provides a space for concise writing. More importantly, this rubric sets one number for each tier. You may not suggest a number that is not listed here. If you believe you are a 7, for instance, and I agree, you will receive an 87. Let’s hope this removes the argument over thresholds and the quibbling over points.

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Final Salvo, Part 2

This post covers your final exam, which is in some ways a direct extension of your autodidactic unit. Here is a copy of the overview, including the rubric for Part II:

This information (except for the rubric, which cannot survive the translation to WordPress) is reprinted in full after the jump.

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Final Salvo, Part 1

The writing that follows looks a bit strange after it’s been reformatted by WordPress; you’ll find it’s difficult to read the footnotes, and some of the miscellaneous presentation is different. I trust you can manage. This is a copy of what was shared with you through Google Drive, and your job this weekend is to read it.

Your job over the next week is to read everything that starts here:

That is last year’s complicated series of posts on the final essay. You obviously have a different kind of assignment, and one divorced from the toxicity of grades; the process is not all that different, however, and there is a massive amount of help to be had in those posts. Lots of it still applies. You might even note that some of the language has, in fact, already been used on you this year.

Your job is to make your way through everything in that series of posts, including the work from your predecessors in AP Language. This is all you need to pull of the writing goal outlined below. You will receive more student models in class. We’ll also go over the final exam and all its attendant stresses next week.

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An older version of Grand Theft Auto

In the previous post, I asked you to reply in the comments with your favorite words and phrases. This post will be a bit more negative, because we are considering the language that we hate—examples of logomisia, if you will. Like linguaphilia, logomisia is created from two roots: logos, Greek for “word,” and misia, Greek for “hatred” or “disgust for.” After reading Orwell, Nunberg, and Wallace, you should have a sense of the way language mutates, shifts, and sometimes declines; now it’s your turn to chime in, although the chime might be more of a clarion (or perhaps the bell that this guy is ringing). After the jump, a few ways to situate yourself before replying.

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Love of language…

Congratulations. You made it.

Of course, our work doesn’t end after the exam. It’s time for a different kind of study of language to take center stage. (Or as the first of Orwell’s rules might have me rewrite that, it’s time for language to enter the scene and chew a little scenery.) We start with linguaphilia, a word formed from the Latin lingua,”tongue” or “language,” and phila, “dear” or “beloved.”  It means a love of language, of words and phrases, of how we strings together letters and sounds to make meaning—and it is the subject of your next unit of study. Our essential questions:

  • Is the English language truly in decline?
  • Do semantic debates matter?
  • How do Internet-driven shifts in communication, such as texting and LOLspeak, affect us?

Let’s get into the background reading. I’ve already given you in this post the first (and arguably most influential) modern treatment of it: George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language.” Spend a little time with this, and it will inevitably shape how you scavenge the texts around you for words and phrases. You’ve also read Geoffrey Nunberg’s “The Decline of Grammar,” a lengthier argument from 1983 that explores the same issues—it was one of the passages on the 2001 multiple-choice practice exam. After the jump, you’ll find a regular plethora (as opposed to an irregular plethora? I just like the assonance of the phrase) of links to more perspectives, plus your assignment.

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The Exam, or Avoiding Hadal Implosion

One week from now, your exam in AP English Language and Composition will be a memory. There should be some comfort in that realization; nothing can stop the crawl of time, so you are almost through the gauntlet.

The best way to spend a few of the hours between now and 8AM on Friday is to revisit the folder of practice material we’ve covered over the last two weeks. As you read your essays and study your multiple-choice answers, you are priming your understanding and skills—but you are just priming them, because you can’t easily cram for this exam. You can study rhetorical terms and organizational tools, and it might help to quiz yourself on that; for the most part, however, there just isn’t that much to cram with.

I know that those of you with multiple AP exams and the SAT will spend the next two weeks cramming information into your short-term memory. You’re up against the sort of ineluctable stress of high-stakes testing. Just know that regurgitation like that will not help you very much on the English Language exam you take on Friday. You must instead demonstrate the skills and strengths and knowledge developed over an entire year.

That gives us another possible comfort: At this point, you are who you are as a writer, reader, and thinker. For better or worse, you’re pretty much as prepared right now as you will be when the gun goes off. So you should not stress or panic. You should review the exam format, remind yourself of what you’ve learned, and find your way into the right mindset.

Of course, a few of you will benefit from practice and last-minute strengthening. Part of our student-centric focus in here means that you call the shot at a moment like this. Just don’t overthink or outthink yourself. If you need it, here is a copy of our free-response overview, which contains an overview of the entire exam, plus a score calculator (thank Olivia H. in Period 6 for the tip):

Use that to help focus you, and plan to spend class time conferencing with me or your peers. Meanwhile, get some rest, relax as much as you can, and keep talking this out. We’ll get back into real learning once you’re through the woods. Good luck.

Who Warrants Survival?

We’ve been focused on education, learning, and especially reading for a while now. Let’s take a break and talk about the apocalypse.

First, head back to this post on torture porn and obscenity, scroll down to the section on the Toulmin model, and brush up on claims, support, and warrants. We covered these terms back at the beginning of the year as part of an introduction to cogent argumentation; now you’ll probably find them useful as you prep for the AP exam’s third free-response question. The quick breakdown: Your claims need support, and warrants connect support to a claim. One of  the easier ways to see how that works—as well as the importance of that connection—is the following exercise. Read it carefully, and then use class time and the comments section of this post to explore your reasoning.

If you’re interested in what last year’s group had to say about this, check here.


Adapted from K. Sherlock’s work at Grossmont College in El Cajon, CA. Available in its original form at this website

A sudden, unpredicted asteroid impact has wiped out virtually all life on Earth. The eleven survivors on the North American continent grieve the loss of billions of human beings and billions of species of flora and fauna. Among the remaining is a NASA scientist, who reveals the U.S. Government’s secret plan to send its country’s eight most powerful and richest people to a newly discovered Earth-like planet in a nearby solar system in the event of a predictable Extinction Level Event. The plan remains, but the intended passengers perished in the asteroid strike. In their place, the eleven survivors will leave the Earth to start over.

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