Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

Monthly Archives: November 2012

Throwing Metaphorical Rocks

We started with this set of essential questions:

  • Why do many Americans love horror films?
  • What do cinematic violence and the business of fear teach us about our society?
  • To what extent is the last decade’s trend of so-called “torture porn” a sign of depravity?
  • If “torture porn” is no longer earning as much at the box office, have we grown a conscience, or are we simplydesensitized?
  • To what extent are the creators of cinematic violence ethically responsible to society?
  • To what extent can we agree on the definition of obscenity or profanity?

We added these in class on Wednesday and Thursday:

  • In a high school setting, is it enough to censor the profanity in an argument replete with it? Should the profanity be left uncensored?
  • What about violent imagery or sexual analogies?
  • In general, to what extent should the material we read be modified for content?

And we’ve annotated and discussed how Rowles writes. Use any or all of that to augment our in-class discussion in the comments section of this post. Keep in mind the optional assignment given to you on Friday, as well: Contact Rowles through email with serious, articulate, and intelligent questions about his argument (e.g., his central claims, his style, how he feels about the article five years later). If you choose to write him, remember to use your school email, and take care to edit your work before sending it.


Obscenity and Profanity: Part 1

Quick prefatory assignment:

  • Get me a copy of your responses to the three questions on rhetoric and style for ¶8 of Edelstein’s article. Give me only these responses: You can create a new Google Drive document and share it with me; you can print out a copy of your work; you can even write out your responses by hand. Be sure to attribute the work to the people who created it, i.e., indicate whether you worked alone or in a group. I will give you direct feedback and a score as soon as possible.

Now to profanity and obscenity:

  • Read both articles by Dustin Rowles. They are archived here; you’ve also been given a copy of each, with the obviously more profane one censored (as a catalyst for discussion more than anything else).
  • Look over the guide to these texts that was prepared for you. It’s in that same original post on this unit. Direct questions will be drawn from these bullet points as we talk tomorrow and Wednesday.
  • Briefly research the Miller test for obscenity. Familiarize yourself with the three criteria necessary for something to be designated obscene, and then focus on the language of the ruling—very specifically the words chosen and what they mean. Direct questions and further discussion will start with the language of the law.

Let me know if you have any questions as you go.

Adjustments: 11/19

For Monday, November 19:

  1. Continue working on Edelstein as necessary today. We will have to adjust the time spent on our collaborative work on his argument, so your baseline understanding—what you are able to answer accurately from that list of questions on rhetoric and style—is essential. You should continue to use Google Drive or to talk to each other through that original post on Edelstein.
  2. If you have not already done so, take your timed general arguments from my desk (the folders are labeled by period), finish typing, and share the work with me in Google Drive.
  3. If you have not already done so, finish the process for those general arguments that is outlined in this post. If you have finished this, recognize that you will need to revisit the Singer Solution arguments once I’ve shared some of your classmates’ exemplars with you.

We will study Dustin Rowles’ two arguments next, most likely, and you can look at those by loading the original post for this unit. I will take stock of where you are with Edelstein tomorrow, and then we will either begin studying Rowles, profanity, and the images and words that offend us; or we will work our way through Edelstein, paragraph by paragraph, so that you can practice rhetorical analysis in a way that helps you (instead of simply chopping the text up until it loses all magic and meaning).

If you are ready, you can load and read the two Dustin Rowles’ texts. Start with the assignment posted first; then read his response to Stephen King; then read his review of Captivity (the censored version first).

QORAS: Edelstein’s “Now Playing”

The following article and attendant set of questions on rhetoric and style have been edited and altered somewhat from the unit overview. Use these in place of those.

You’ll have a day to read the article and start to answer the questions, and then we will break up a collective read-through by addressing as many of them as we can. This will be done as an adversarial, which means that you will be called on directly; after the initial attempt, you will be able to work in groups to flesh out answers, and you will earn points both individually and in groups toward a Q2 adversarial score. On Friday, you will be able to choose which of these questions we begin with; if you prepare in advance, you can accelerate your learning of the material by quite a bit.

Because next week is truncated by Thanksgiving, we will revisit our plans then. We may continue with Edelstein, switch to Dustin Rowles and Captivity, or break entirely for three days on Native American mascots. Regardless of the decision there, you can use the comments section of this post to earn adversarial credit for discussing and refining your understanding of these questions. [Note: Comments closed 11/28 at 7:30am.]

Note: You may also with to create a Google Drive document in which you collaborate in groups or as an entire class on these questions. That kind of work will earn you adversarial credit; just make sure to share the document with me before you get going.

Rhetorical Analysis: King’s “Horror”

On 11/13/12, you wrote a timed rhetorical analysis essay. Here is the free-writing guide to this kind of prompt, which was distributed in class on Friday, and here is the prompt itself:

Complete this response after reading and annotating “Why We Crave Horror Movies,” a 1982 article by horror writer Stephen King. Read King’s argument carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze the rhetorical strategies King uses to develop his position about why we crave horror movies.


  • You may use any notes and handouts you like while writing this response.
  • You must obviously use your copy of the text.
  • Refer as much as possible to specific paragraphs; number them quickly before beginning your response.
  • Outline your response first.
  • Remember to use quotations and specific details as necessary and efficacious.
  • Try to include sentences that utilizes a version of the subject-verb-object construction given to you in your free response preparatory materials. As you write these sentences, underline them in your response.
  • Include an explicit thesis statement in your introductory paragraph.

 Q1 note: The content grade for this response may be held in abeyance until the start of second quarter. That depends on whether or not I can find enough time to score these during the week. You may also receive a separate content score on your approach, specifically the thesis and introduction of your response.

You read King’s essay on Wednesday the 7th; then you had two days to consider his strategies and the essential questions answered by his essay. Over the weekend, you had time to focus more on those essential questions and review a guide to writing rhetorical analysis essays. Your performance on this essay reflects your understanding of King, your ability to control an essay analyzing his rhetorical strategies, and—most importantly—your investment in a process that spanned most of a week.

This should ring familiar as you read the many other pieces of feedback here, in class, through your email, and through Google Drive; we are interested, as we turn the corner into Q2, in your level of investment and the fruit it bears.

Update: 11/13

Around the time that you receive your first report cards, I will give you an argument of mine about investment and self-efficacy. We will hold in abeyance our study of grades, floating standards, and the problems of public education; we probably need to revisit my expectations, however, and that starts even before we cross that arbitrary threshold into the second quarter.

You are going to receive three scores rather rapidly this week:

  1. Your score out of 100 points on the political letter your group wrote during the week of 10/22
  2. Your score out of 100 points on the timed general argument you wrote on 10/24
  3. Your score out of 54 on the timed multiple-choice section you completed on 10/26

The last item on that list is the only one that will not factor into your quarterly average. The rest count; that means you will have questions and concerns immediately. And that means you need a process for understanding what happened and how to apply that understanding to future assignments.

First, locate where we are in this cycle:

  1. Investment in formative work leads to
  2. success on summative work, which leads to
  3. an easier time parsing and processing summative scores and feedback, which leads to
  4. more productive collaborative and individual feedback looping, which leads to
  5. more effective metacognition and reflection, which leads to
  6. an easier time investing in formative work, which leads to
  7. greater success on summative work, and so on.

This is based on the philosophy articulated in our introductory materials—a philosophy I will again attempt to articulate next week or the week after. It is a cycle in which greater investment in the optional portions results in greater success on the required portions; on the other hand, failure to invest in each step, regardless of extrinsic motivators like checkpoint grades, leads to a cycle of stagnation and frustration.

Right now, you are parsing and processing summative scores and feedback. The two assignments in question are the timed general argument and untimed letters you wrote before Sandy paid us a visit. You will receive an email about the letters; this post is a sort of touchstone for everything; and in a document shared with you through Google Drive, you will receive directions about the process to follow for the timed writing. Be in the habit of using all three of these digital resources in addition to what we cover in class; this is the only way to turn your investment into the performance you want.

Below is a quick overview of what to make of your multiple-choice scores. Remember that we will be working our way through this exam; the skill of close reading may not be new to you, but this kind of test is.

Read more of this post

Alligators of the Mind

America likes horror movies.  So much so, in fact, that it may have become central to any study of the American zeitgeist and collective psyche.  (For example, the Saw franchise continued for long enough that, while in the process of grossing more than $400 million, it ran out of Roman numerals.  That tells us something, whether or not we want it to.)  As we move through a series of arguments about horror, terror, torture, and fear, we’ll consider these questions:

  • Why do many Americans love horror films?
  • What do cinematic violence and the business of fear teach us about our society?
  • To what extent is the last decade’s trend of so-called “torture porn” a sign of depravity?
  • If “torture porn” is no longer earning as much at the box office, have we grown a conscience, or are we simply desensitized?
  • To what extent are the creators of cinematic violence ethically responsible to society?
  • To what extent can we agree on the definition of obscenity or profanity?

Read more of this post

Update: 11/5

If you load the last update and scroll down to the last sentence, you will find a particularly (albeit darkly) funny subordinate clause:

I will continue to set up the physical space in our classroom, and if all goes well, you’ll have a place reserved by next week for your portfolios, scored work like those group quizzes, and other resources.

As you may have noticed over the last ten days, all did not go well. We needed that time to edit and revise your letters; now we are on the eve of the election, and for us to honor the hard work you put in, we’ll have to adjust almost everything.

Start here:

These are copies of the letters you submitted before Sandy visited us. Each of you has editing access to each letter, but the first step you must take is just to read them all. Skim and look for patterns; these are the data (yes, that’s a plural noun) we’ll use for the second step, and you must be familiar with them before we move on.

Step #2 is how we will use these strange circumstances as a learning opportunity: You are going to help me write a letter. I will collect your work under a cover letter, and we will send it out. But to whom, and in what format, and for what purpose—well, that’s the part we have to adjust.

Once you’ve skimmed and processed all 17 letters, load this page:

You’ve probably already seen it, since it was emailed to you as a resource for the letters you wrote. Now it is a requirement, and you have only tonight—Monday night—to develop a working understanding of SOAPSTone as an organizational strategy. I will send you another email later, and we will use this tomorrow in class; you need to keep the following list in the back of your mind today, however, because this is real-world rhetoric:

  1. Our speaker has shifted from your groups to me.
  2. Our details are now nested: I will write about your letters, which analyze ad campaigns, which use logical fallacies.
  3. Our immediate occasion has changed entirely; we have to account for the storm and the election, which will be over by the time we finish writing together.
  4. Our audience has to be carefully considered: Do we write to both candidates? Do we write to the eventual winner? How do we account for that result before it happens?
  5. That means that our approach will have to be carefully considered, too: Is this a letter to the president, regardless of which candidate wins? Are we opening with the original assignment, or is our purpose bigger?
  6. That purpose must also shift and mutate a lot. What do we hope to accomplish here?

And so on. More to come; for now, read and prepare yourself for a brand-new kind of collaboration.