Glance at a newspaper. Listen to the radio. Watch TV. What you see is people creating news, stories, and yes, history. How accurate is it? When does something become history? Does a fact, an event, a person become history – or do we create history by creating meaning and significance for that fact, that event, that person?
Actually, in the modern field of history, we argue the latter. Not all facts become history, although they may very well be in the past. Not all past events or people in the past become history – and therein lies the point. History is a creation of people, in all their messy glory. What differentiates rumor, innuendo, lies, spin and rhetoric from history are the methods used: and that is what historians are supposed to do. We’re supposed to apply our training and skills to gather, analyze, synthesize and interpret evidence in specific historically-appropriate ways. And the evidence has to be examined carefully before being incorporated into the analysis, so source credibility is essential. Evidence has to be respected: just because we don’t like a particular fact, event or person doesn’t mean we get to ignore it, or exclude it from our work. Being human, we have to recognize that we are going to prefer one thing (event, fact, person, period) more than another. Being professional, we have to acknowledge the impact that those preferences may well bias our work and consciously take steps to mitigate any bias. We follow certain methodologies, document our process and sources, argue our point with colleagues so that our own search for meaning is itself credible.
And that is what professional historians do. Many of us get into the field because we’re fascinated by the stories of the past: the life of a medieval miller, the arc of change brought about by a particular process, whatever. Personally, I love what I discovered once into the field of history: research and teaching. My research takes place in a government archive in Paris, France. Hours spent in those archives, reading other people’s letters, gives me intellectual stimulation and historical insights I just don’t get anywhere else.
Teaching is a whole different rush. I teach World History, Ancient Egypt & Greece (and others), European history and various isms (nationalism, imperialism, decolonization, etc.). Some stories, but mostly I help students learn to use the tools of the professional historian: analysis, synthesis and interpretation of sources and communication of that work. Students are challenged to be apprentice historians, and most love it. Most realize that history isn’t about dead men, wars, kings or treaties – that it is indeed, a creative process.
History is not just what happened in the past, it is the interpretations created by generations of historians who seek out evidence and impute importance to that evidence in relation with other evidence, interpretations and contexts. All kinds of uses are made of the evidence by non-professionals in service of other goals, such as those by politicians, leaders of business and cultural groups, religious leaders and others. Some of those people may well be ‘professionally trained’ historians, but all too frequently they use and abuse of history rather than do it. They are not acting as professional historians, they are acting in the other capacity. Recognizing the abuse of history is tricky, but necessary. Recognizing the creative aspect of historical study is vital, challenging practitioners to constantly assess their own preconceptions and limitations and how those liberate and limit their analyses and interpretations.
Linguistic accuracy plays an important role in the quality of written texts; however, the explicit teaching of linguistic form – particularly grammar – for the purpose of improving learners’ writing has generated an ongoing debate in the fields of first language (L1) composition and second language writing studies. As suggested by the following excerpt (Zhou, 2009, p. 33), some theorists consider grammar teaching ineffective, whereas others believe that grammar or language is a resource for making meanings, and thus students need to be taught how to utilize this resource effectively even though the explicit teaching of grammar does not always lead to writing improvement.
After reading the following excerpt and drawing on your learning experiences, please share your thoughts about the role of grammar instruction in helping learners to develop L1 writing proficiency.
The teaching of L1 composition has undergone three paradigm shifts within the last half
century: focus on form, emphasis on the writer, and focus on the social context of text
production. Even though at present all these focuses co-exist when a new teaching approach
emerges (Kroll, 2001), scholarly interest in writing processes and the social context of
writing has weakened the role of explicit language instruction (Frodesen, 2001). More
importantly, L1 composition researchers dispute whether explicit grammar instruction is
needed in the writing classroom. In 1996, the National Council of Teachers of English
dedicated a full issue of English Journal to grammar instruction titled The Great Debate
(Again): Teaching Grammar and Usage.
Explicit grammar instruction has been viewed as leading to little improvement in writing
(Hillocks, 1986) or even to harmful effects due to its displacing ‘instruction and practice in
actual composition’ (Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, & Schoer, 1963, cited in Kolln, 1996, p. 27).
A recent review on the effect of grammar teaching on writing development in students
aged 5–16 also found little positive effect for grammar teaching (Andrews et al., 2006).
However, the authors of this review warn that the quality of research to date is insufficient
to prove the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of grammar teaching.
A number of L1 composition educators have challenged anti-grammar teaching claims
and questioned the weakened role of grammar instruction in writing classrooms. Nunan
(2005) and Noguchi (1991) argue that grammar still needs to be taught even if the teaching
of it does not necessarily help students produce instantaneous better texts. ‘It is not unusual
for people acquiring a skill to get “worse” before they get better and for writers to err
more as they venture more’ (Shaughnessy, 1977, p. 119). Noguchi (1991) insists that ‘just
because formal instruction in grammar proves generally unproductive in improving writing
does not necessarily mean that we should discard all aspects of grammar instruction’
(p. 3). Furthermore, Nunan (2005) believes grammar rules offer students tools to form and
articulate more elaborately complex thoughts.
Martinsen (2000) and Weaver (1996) point out that grammar must be taught in the
context of students’ writing. For instruction to be effective, grammar teaching in writing
classrooms must link rules with usage or difficulties students encounter in authentic writing
tasks. Weaver (1996) argued that ‘teaching “grammar” in the context of writingworks better
than teaching grammar as a formal system, if our aim is for students to use grammar more
effectively and conventionally in their writing’ (p. 23).
Zhou, A. (2009). What adult ESL learners say about improving grammar and vocabulary in their writing for academic purposes. Language Awareness, 18(1), 31-46.
Invited Post by Dennis Jowaisas, Ph.D.
One way to solve this problem is to decide that evil behavior results from possession of a person by evil “spirits”, whatever that may mean in a particular culture’s belief system. Another way is to decide that the people who behave in an evil way, always culturally contextualized, are evil, or bad, in and of themselves. “They should know better.” Therefore, they are responsible. But even the possession theory of evil may hold the person responsible: the possession results from some moral flaw or overt or covert misbehavior. Holding the person responsible makes it easy to deal with them: we punish evil. Exactly how we punish depends upon the culture.
At the outset I want to acknowledge that modern psychology and neuroscience have shown that some folks are possessed! They possess a nervous system that is dramatically different in function than the nervous system of the average citizen. Some persons with a history of violence and difficulty in complying with basic social and legal rules have damage to parts of the brain that govern or influence exactly those kinds of behavior. We know enough about brain behavior interactions to be sure about this. Brain disorders that involve the limbic system, one of the primary systems regulating emotion and memory, reliably result in poorly regulated social behavior and violent behavior. This is particularly true of damage to the septal, hippocampal, and amygdala areas of the limbic system. Damage to or malfunctioning of prefrontal areas of the cortex, areas that exert executive control over emotional expression and decision-making, result in persons who make consistently poor judgments about how to behave in various situations. They also exhibit hasty or impulsive decisions that seem to ignore obvious outcomes or consequences. The orbitofrontal cortex seems particularly important in this behavior. All of these limbic and prefrontal brain parts are interconnected and emotional expression requires an intact and “normally” active brain system.
Some studies show that persons diagnosed as having antisocial personality disorder (APD) because of their cruel conduct and/or criminal behavior have relatively unresponsive limbic systems and orbitofrontal cortex. Consequently they are less “fearful” of social consequences for aberrant behavior. In essence, they are difficult to “socialize” through the typical mechanisms of punishment, guilt and shame. To influence behavior in these ways requires a conventionally reactive limbic, hypothalamic and prefrontal cortex arousal system.
In the previous syndrome of APD we see evidence of the “bad chemicals” that bedeviled Dwayne Hoover, Vonnegut’s protagonist in “Breakfast of Champions”. The brain depends on a very delicate balance of a dozen or more neurotransmitter chemicals for proper functioning. We know now that most of the so-called psychoses of 40 years ago are disorders of neurotransmitter balance and the prevalent treatments are drugs that selectively increase or decrease the concentrations of these chemicals in the various subsystems of the brain.
So, in this limited, biological sense we could say that evil resides within the person. But I don’t think that is what most folks mean when they claim the inner person as the source of evil. I believe those same folks will not be comfortable with the next consideration: evil lies outside the person, not in the form of some malevolent devilish source, but in the environment’s impact upon the person. In psychology we traditionally label this a behaviorist thesis but over the last three decades many social psychologists have focused on societal and cultural variables in order to understand why we act as we do.
Our first hint that the environment can have such powerful effects on our behavior comes from some old studies of honesty. Basically what we found was that most students will not cheat on an task unless the outcome is important and the chances of being caught are slim. When those two variables were manipulated so that the outcome really mattered and there was little chance of being discovered cheating, almost everyone cheated. OK, you say, but that is just that psychology research in an artificial setting, not the “real” world. And you would have a point, except ….
There are lots of other studies that show how easily people are influenced by circumstances. Two classic examples are the Solomon Ash line judgment studies and the Stanley Milgram obedience investigations. You may know about them and the details are readily available online and in introductory psychology texts. Here are the brief summaries. Ash showed that one third of all students would conform to erroneous judgments of the length of a line, even when the comparison line was twice as long as the target line. All it took was three students, in cahoots with the investigator, to make these wild judgments prior to the uninformed true participant. Now, seriously, how do we account for these results except by social influence, i.e., conformity. There is no way the target person could misperceive the length. In fact, some students claimed the lines “really were the same length” instead of accepting the explanation that they were conforming. How powerful is pressure to conform, eh? Remember, a third of students were so easily influenced they defied the evidence of their eyes, though not all rejected the conformity explanation when debriefed. Ashe also showed the conditions under which participants would resist conformity. Social situations dramatically affect our most basic judgments.
OK, I agree that the situation was rather artificial and the judgment wasn’t that important. But how about this study. A group of college students were asked to help train another group of students from a nearby college by collectively shocking them when they made mistakes on a task that was administered via computer. Of course, no actual shocks are delivered. In fact, there were no other actual students, it was all computer simulated, a sham controlled by the investigator. There are three experimental conditions for the trainers, all consisting of a comment about the arriving students they “overhear”.
Neutral: “The subjects from the other school are here”.
Humanized: “The subjects from the other school are here; they seem nice”.
Dehumanized: “The subjects from the other school are here; they seem like ‘animals’”.
As you probably anticipated by now, the most “shocks” in the subsequent “training” were delivered by the group hearing the dehumanizing statement, and the least by the humanized statement group. Remember, the students were randomly to groups so the only differences were the single, simple comment they overheard.
So, is evil situational? Are good people made to do bad things by circumstances? Does the social environment really control so much of our behavior? Perhaps the most active and, consequently, the most famous recent psychologist to actively promote this view is Phillip Zimbardo. His thesis is that most folks are at least morally average, generally doing the right thing most of the time. However, Zimbardo claims, decades of research shows that our behavior is very malleable. His argument is readily available in two places. The first is available at http://www.psichi.org/Pubs/Articles/Article_72.aspx, an article based on Zimbardo’s address to the national psychology honor society and originally titled “The Psychology of Evil: Seducing Good People Into Evil Deeds”.
The second source is his TED presentation, where his thesis is that the abuse by American soldiers at Abu Grabe was not the result of a few “bad apples” but caused by the “bad barrel”, the social environment arranged by the military command and CIA. (http://www.ted.com/talks/philip_zimbardo_on_the_psychology_of_evil.html )
In his TED talk, Zimbardo summarizes the evidence of classic experiments like Ashe, his own Stanford Prison study, and Stanley Milgram’s obedience to authority. I leave it to you to investigate this argument now that I have introduced you to the dilemma of the source of evil.
Selective Bibliography and Videos
Bandura, A., Underwood, B., & Fromson, M. E. (1975). Disinhibition of aggression through diffusion of responsibility and dehumanization of victims. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 253-269.
Zimbardo, P. The psychology of evil. Eye on Psi Chi, Vol. 5, #1
Editors Note: Major source for this presentation
Zimbardo, P. G. (1970). The human choice: Individuation, reason, and order versus deindividuation, impulse, and chaos. In W. J. Arnold & D. Levine (Eds.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation: Vol. 17 (pp. 237-307). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press
One result of Zimbardo’s commitment to “doing good”: a positive psychology model of shyness.
details of the Prison exp. in slides
Zibardo’s tour of the former “prison”
Ashe’s experiment on conformity
NYT Science interview with Zimbardo
Zimbardo and Abu Grav
Podcast Part 2 of interview with PZ from Cardiff University
Podcast about Milgram Experiments on Obedience
Training soldiers to kill, but can they cope?
Invited Post by Liz Willner, Ed.D.
I was reading this week about Oklahoma schools and districts being given scores on a “simple” A-F basis. It reminds me of the challenges faced by those of us who are dedicated to helping all our students reach their full potentials. How do we report complexity to the public? How can a single grade tell anything about a school and the efforts of its staff, students, parents, and greater community? How can we help Oklahoma citizens care about other people’s children as well as their own? I wrote the following piece 5 years ago when I was struggling to explain why the very foundation of our work with child readers ought to be joy–not test scores, not skill and drill test-prep instruction, not fear of the public shaming ritual begun with No Child Left Behind.
This essay was written to an audience of Oklahoma reading teachers, but maybe it would be helpful for others to take a step back and ponder the power of words, the value of the individual, and the ultimate purpose of reading…
What is the most important goal of reading instruction in our schools? Some would say it is to teach students to comprehend increasingly difficult texts, others would say it is to help students develop the skills to think and question critically, and still others would say it is simply to ensure that our students do well on standardized tests. However, I believe there is a foundational goal that must be in place before anything else matters. That goal is JOY.
Ask yourself, “What is the value of reading in my life?” If your answer has more to do with satisfaction than skill level, more to do with comfort than comprehension, more to do with engagement than exams, you have experienced the joy of reading that ought to be the birthright of every student in Oklahoma’s schools.
But can we teach joy? Not really. We can, however, let it permeate all of our work with students. We can model joy and invite our students to experience the sheer pleasure of reading with us. It’s not that we’re off the hook from the more “scientific” aspects of the teaching of reading. We do need to include excellent instruction and quality assessment, but we also need to allow ourselves the privilege of demonstrating for our students the central role that reading plays in each of our lives. As Opitz and Ford write, “We not only teach children to read, but we also teach them to be readers” (2001, p. 4).
What does teaching children to be readers look like? It looks like the teacher who throws back her head and laughs with her first graders when she sees the pictures in Underwear Do’s and Don’ts (Parr). It looks like the teacher who cries when the painful part of Bridge to Terabithia (Paterson) affects him. It looks like the teacher who searches tirelessly for books that will engage a third grade boy who says he hates reading. It looks like the teacher who shares her own favorite passage of the latest book she’s reading with her students. It looks like the teacher who listens to one more fifth grader’s retelling of the latest Harry Potter book (Rowling).
Teaching children to be readers looks like a teacher who invites her sixth graders to love (or NOT love) a book she holds dear. It looks like a teacher who includes books from a variety of cultures in his classroom library. It looks like a teacher who challenges a seventh grade girl to read a book that she doesn’t feel confident about. It looks like a teacher who reads at home, comfortably nestled in his favorite old chair. It looks like…well…it looks like JOY.
Oklahoma teachers of reading should want for our students what we get when we are curled up with a fascinating book, when we’re so totally engaged in our reading that the world fades away, when we are so excited about a book that we seek out someone else who has read it, when we get a little self-satisfied feeling when a radio program mentions a book we’ve read.
Oklahoma teachers of reading should continue to develop their professional practices with new techniques and strategies, but always keep the ultimate goal of reading instruction in sight—JOY.
Opitz, M. & Ford, M. (2001). Reaching Readers: Flexible and Innovative Strategies for Guided Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Reprinted from the Oklahoma Reading Association Newsletter Fall 2007
Invited Post by Terry Phelps, Ph.D.
Many writers skimp by using shortcuts such as contractions, acronyms, and ellipses, but then ladle on redundancies, nominalizations, and other “fat” in their writing. This collection of fat-cutting exercises helps even experienced writers slim down their sentences.
[Please click on the link below to read the article and share your thoughts about fat-cutting exercises by clicking on "Comments" or the title next to it]