Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

Monthly Archives: February 2013

Oppenheimer ETA: Parallelism with Purpose

Oppenheimer (LIFE Portrait)

On February 21, you took a multiple-choice test on studying the following passage:

The problem of doing justice to the implicit, the imponderable, and the unknown is of course not unique in politics.  It is always with us in science, it is with us in the most trivial of personal affairs, and it is one of the great problems of writing and of all forms of art.  The means by which it is solved is sometimes called style.  It is style which complements affirmation with limitation and with humility; it is style which makes it possible to act effectively, but not absolutely; it is style which, in the domain of foreign policy, enables us to find harmony between the pursuit of ends essential to us, and the regard for the views, the sensibilities, the aspirations of those to whom the problem may appear in another light; it is style which is the deference that action pays to uncertainty; it is above all style through which power defers to reason.

This comes from J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the scientists charged with creating the world’s first atomic bomb.  He was also a student of history and something of a poet; at the moment of the first successful detonation, he was reminded of a line from the Bhagavad-Gita: “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”  To Oppenheimer, power wasn’t an abstract concept; watch him here, twenty years after the Trinity test, and notice how deeply his memories seem to move him.

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ETA: Classification and Division

Overview: You will spend the next few weeks practicing emulation through analysis, abbreviated to ETA writing and nicknamed bishop writing. Like the chess piece, you have some restrictions on the direction you move, but only the limits of the board for distance. We are also leaning on the etymology of the noun: Bishop comes from the Greek episkopos, meaning “watcher or overseer,” and you will oversee all elements of the writing process yourself, using the model texts and tools in this post.

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Interlude: The Case for Kohn

In our last lesson, we began this quarter’s Kohnian shift; in the next, we will decide on the criteria that will drive your self-assessment. Expect to have a clear understanding of what we are doing, how we are doing it, and what it means for your learning by the end of next week.

First, however, I will show you why we need Kohn at all. Read the following feedback on your current grades. Then visit the Portal to see your scores, noting just how difficult it is for you to separate your actual performance from your printed grades—they are that curved, manipulated, and otherwise inflated.

Part 1: QORAS

Only a few failed to finish, and I’m proud of you for that. In fact, only a few demonstrated a complete lack of preparation; the rest of you obviously used your week well. But to help the  few who weren’t prepared helps all of you. To that end:

  1. QORAS#4 and QORAS#5 were scored individually
  2. Only the higher score was counted

If you failed to finish the exam, a few points were deducted to reflect that. Similarly, if your answers overall were much weaker than your answers to #4 and #5, a few points were deducted to reflect that. But that this does not apply to most of you; with few exceptions, if you didn’t finish the exam and/or your answers overall were weak, your answers on #4 and #5 were limited or ineffective.

I chose #4 and #5, by the way, because they were the two that produced the best responses. You struggled most with #11 and #12, but that is likely because of time and pressure.

Part 2: Synthesis Response

This section featured the biggest changes:

  1. The prompts were not counted after being scored
  2. Only your essay was counted toward your average

The biggest reason for this was the poor quality of a handful of the prompts. Building a prompt is difficult, however; to fall short in presentation, arrangement, and general succinctness is to be expected. That you still wrote, in most cases, compelling arguments means more in our course. And the prompts can be considered outlines, anyway; the better they were, the better the essays were.

There was more to my decision: Factoring in a value of effectiveness for the prompts hurt more of you than it helped, and that score might prevent us from focusing on the goal of the exercise: to connect sources to each other as part of your own argument. Better to give a score for the essay only as as independent exercises in synthesis argumentation. Only when your focus was so unclear as to render the argument incoherent did I fold in a consideration of your prompt, and then, only if it helped your score.

Notice how many times the logic behind these decisions returns to your scores and your reaction to those scores. That is why we are doing what we can within the confines of a school system to get rid of grades.