On Single Stories and Master Narratives

In this Blog post, I want you to practice “reading between the lines” by analyzing crucial, controversial material that is NOT found in a particular story of your choosing.  Specifically, you are to write 2 paragraphs of careful, in-depth analysis on the dangers of “single stories” (to borrow pointedly from Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk), OR two paragraphs on the related issue of “master narratives” (as outlined by Derrick Aldridge in the article assigned for this dat). 

For your topic, then, I want you to respond to either the TedTalk by Adichie, OR the article by Aldridge.  So, you will either present an alternative “single story”, or a different “master narrative” told by historians about notable figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. (the focus of Aldridge’s article).  If you want to respond to Adichie, I want you to pick out a significant narrative “text” that is either written BY someone from another culture, or written ABOUT some person or occurrence from another place.  If you want to respond to Aldridge, you should locate an account of a notable historical figure, and then see how that figure is shaped, framed, limited, or idealized into a simplified “master narrative.” 

Because the goal is to use and build on the ideas of (one of) these writers,
you might very well quote them and use their ideas in your analysis, as you
explore the ways in that historical and cultural stories often create “stereotypes,
and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are
incomplete. They make one story become the only story” (as Adichie mentions in
her lecture).  So, in looking at your chosen “single story” or “master
narrative”, you might ask/answer the following questions (in some way):
 What other stories are there but do not get
told?  What are some of the most important gaps or omissions in your
chosen story, and how can you tell?  Perhaps more importantly, what are
the ramifications of these gaps for what the reader perceives to be the
“reality” of the situation, the “truth” of the society, political idea, or
historical personage in question?  Putting things even more simply, if you
“read between the lines” and deconstruct the narrative (in terms of what is
seen but also NOT seen), what do you find – and why is this so important??
 To answer these questions may well require a bit of research, and the key
is to bring some intellectual nuance to an overly-simplified “story”
that will, in the process, allow your reader to more fully see the “big
picture” in regards to the situation in question.

‘Factfulness’ and the Freshman Convocation Lecture

This year’s Freshman Convocation lecture will be given by Sister Dierdre Mullan, who has served the global community in a number of notable capacities, such as working for the United Nations as Director of the Mercy Global Concern (MGC) and also as the Executive Director of the Partnership for Global Justice at the UN.  She is one of the founding members of the NGO The Mercy Girl Effect, and in recent years she has worked with UNICEF, focusing on childrens’ and girls’ education.  Based on her considerable experience, Sister Mullan is well-positioned to speak about key global crises and, specifically, to enlighten us further about some of the major topics covered by Hans Rosling in Factfulness. In this Blog post I’d like you to draw connections between Sister Mullan’s lecture and the book itself.  And just as importantly, please offer a response that comments on Sister Mullan’s lecture at the Freshman Convocation event (on Thursday, Sept. 26th).  You might tell us, what did the speaker say that really touched a nerve with you?  What did you find interesting about her lecture, and how/why does it connect up with the themes and topics of your FRST 1002 class?  Also, what was invigorating about the entire Freshman Convocation event?  Why?  We are lucky to have Sister Mullan coming to speak with us this week, and I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts about her presentation! 

On Language, Images, and “Reality”

For this Blogpost, I want you to consider the ways in which the language we use shapes the way we think and, in turn, I’d like you to ponder the deeper “truths” of an image of your choosing.  So, to practice both types of applied critical thinking, I want you to write a thoughtful Blogpost that is at least two paragraphs long.  Your first paragraph(s) should tackle the issue of language and reality, and the second paragraph(s) should address the “reality” of a particular image.  More specifically, here is what you should do for both parts:

Part One:  For this section, I want you to demonstrate that language does indeed serve to limit and/or shape our understanding of the world.  To do so, you may well have to get a little bit creative to come up with a suitable subject, and then make sense out of it.  To choose your topic, you might take a cue from our recent readings.  Thus, your discussion might do such things as:  examine “the use of metaphor” in a specific cultural discourse; explore “the invention” of a new term for a particular social phenomenon; assess the impact of the PC “word police” on modern language; consider the controversial “meaning of a word” in a particular usage or context; comment upon the distortion of “reality” in the language of politicians; address the ways in which vagaries of legal language might impact criminal trial proceedings; compare the impact of a translation or discuss the challenges of “code-switching” for a second-language speaker.  Once you have chosen your topic, your job is to illustrate the linguistic phenomenon in question and draw some logical conclusions about it.  A nice way to imagine this investigation, perhaps, is to see it as “uncovering the iceberg” – going deeper to illustrate ways in which the “reality” of the world as seen in various linguistic circumstances is merely just “the tip of the iceberg” and a more complex story remains somehow “beneath the surface.”

Part Two:  In the second section of your discussion, I want you to find and examine a visual image that somehow makes an argument, and that you deem to be interesting. By “interesting,” I mean that the image/video in question should have a degree of sophistication – it should be intriguing somehow and potentially effective at (persuasively) reaching its audience.  The visual “text” you choose to examine is entirely up to you. But, here are some general ideas of the kinds of visual resources you might choose to explore: a poster, photograph, political flyer, a piece of art, public graffiti, an Instagram image or Facebook post, or a comic strip.   Once you’ve chosen your visual image, your task is to explore and explain how the image works to persuade its audience.  In other words, your brief account will “interpret” the meaning of the image and explain how that idea is conveyed.  To do so, you might consider:  what is the image arguing, and how is the image making that argument through rhetorical appeals and the careful positioning and selection of different parts and details.

On “Single Stories” and the “Realities” of Language

For your second Blog post of the semester, I want to build on our work from last class, and also look forward a bit in anticipation of our work for class on 10/17.  So, with that in mind, I would like you to put together two sections of response here, which should be at least one paragraph each.  The first section should engage with the topic of language and reality, and the second section should consider the dangers of “single stories” (to borrow deliberately from Chimamanda Adichie’s well-known TED talk). More specifically, here is what I’d like you to do in these two sections:

Part One:  In this section, I’d like you to explore one of the age-old questions of linguistics and philosophy:  How does our language shape our reality?   In order to develop your answer to this question, you should try and provide a specific example of language and “reality”.  The idea here is to address the ways in which the language we use shapes the way we think and influences the ways we understand things like race, gender, sex, politics, commercial products, and a host of other topics.  To do so, you should discuss a particular example that illustrates specific ways in which language serves to limit and/or shape our understanding of the world.  For example, you might: address “the use of metaphor” in a specific cultural discourse, consider the “invention” of a new term for a particular phenomenon, assess the impact of the PC “word police” on modern language, think about the controversial meaning of a word in a particular usage or context, comment upon the distortion of “reality” in the language of politicians, compare the challenges of “code-switching” for a second language speaker, and so on.

Part Two:  In this section, I’d like you to respond to and extend Adichie’s ideas about “single stories” by addressing a significant narrative “text” that is either written BY someone from another culture, or written ABOUT some person or occurrence from another place.  You might, therefore, select a literary story or some other form of media narrative that deals with important historical or political ideas (a feature news story or even photograph would qualify here).  Because the goal is to use and build on Adichie’s ideas as a way “in” to some other “single story”, you might want to quote her TedTalk and use her specific words and ideas in your discussion.  As Adichie states, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  So, in looking at your chosen story, you might ask/answer questions of the following type (in some way):  What other stories are there in society but do not get told?  What are some of the most important gaps or omissions in your chosen story, and how can you tell?  Perhaps more importantly, what are the ramifications of these gaps for what the reader or global citizen perceives to be the “reality” of the situation, the “truth” of the society or political idea in question?

Stockton University Students “Visit” Station Eleven

Thursday, September 27th is the date of this year’s Freshman Convocation lecture. On that date, we are very lucky in that we will be visited by Emily St. John Mandel, the author of Station Eleven. If you are reading this post, you are probably a student in my fall Critical Thinking course, and as such you have spent a lot of time picking apart Mandel’s novel in recent classes (not to mention writing a handful of journal entries in response to the book).  In terms of this book, my hope and expectation during Unit One has been that students will read the novel, and then attend this lecture.  With that in mind, for your first Blogpost of the semester I would like you to respond to Mandel’s talk.  Specifically, I would like two paragraphs of discussion about what you saw and experienced during the Freshman Convocation.  You might consider such things as:  In the wake of this event, what stood out for you?  What did you find enjoyable (or not), and why?  What did the writer say that really touched a nerve with you?  What did you find interesting about her talk, and how/why does it connect up with the themes and topics of our class?  How did this discussion enhance your understanding of Station Eleven in terms of its themes, characters, or style?  Also, looking at Mandel’s lecture critically, why do you think this kind of event is useful and important for all of you as First Year students at Stockton? Having spent so much time together reading and examining this excellent novel, I’ll be very curious to hear your thoughts about Mandel’s visit to Stockton!

Applying Adichie’s Ideas About “Single Stories”

For this Blog post, I want you to practice “reading between the lines” by analyzing crucial, controversial material that is NOT found in a particular story of your choosing.  Specifically, you are to write 2-3 paragraphs of careful, in-depth analysis on the dangers of “single stories” (to borrow pointedly from Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk).  In general, the goals here are for you to:  Use your critical thinking skills to build upon Adichie’s ideas from her popular lecture; and practice your skills in critically reading a notable historical or political story – skills of the very kind you will be working with for your Unit Two projects.

With these goals in mind, here’s what I would like for you to do in your Blog post:

-For your topic, I want you to pick out a significant narrative “text” that is either written BY someone from another culture, or written ABOUT some person or occurrence from another place.  You might, therefore, select a literary story or some other form of media narrative that deals with important historical or political ideas (a feature news story or even photograph would qualify here).  OR, as an alternative, if you would like to address a problematic “story” that has emerged in the world of politics in the age of Trump, that would be acceptable as well.

-Because the goal is to use and build on Adichie’s ideas as a way “in” to some other “single story”, you should quote her talk and use her specific words and ideas somewhere in your discussion.

-As Adichie says, the truth is that “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  So, in looking at your chosen story, you might ask/answer the following questions (in some way):  What other stories are there but do not get told?  What are some of the most important gaps or omissions in your chosen story, and how can you tell?  Perhaps more importantly, what are the ramifications of these gaps for what the reader perceives to be the “reality” of the situation, the “truth” of the society or political idea in question?  Putting things even more simply, if you “read between the lines” and deconstruct the narrative (in terms of what is seen but also NOT seen), what do you find – and why is this so important??  To answer these questions will likely require a bit of research, and the key is to bring some intellectual nuance to an overly-simplified “story” that will, in the process, allow your reader to more fully see the “big picture” in regards to the situation in question.

Truths about ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’

The 2017 Freshman Convocation lecture will be given by Ryan Holiday, the author of ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying.’  If you are in my Critical Thinking course, you will have spent some class time exploring some of the key ideas in the book.  If you are in my ‘Myth’ course, you will not have studied it directly, but the hope and expectation is that you have read it, since this was asked of all incoming freshmen.  In fact, Holiday’s book might actually speak in interesting ways to myths and myth-making (when seen from a twenty-first century perspective).  Whichever class you are taking, in this Blog post I want you to carefully respond to the common reading for Stockton freshmen.  Your response may do one of two things (or both!), and should be at least two paragraphs long:  1)  Offer some commentary in the wake of Holiday’s lecture at the Freshman Convocation (on Thursday the 28th ).  Tell us, what did the writer say that really touched a nerve with you?  What did you find interesting about his lecture, and how/why does it connect up with the themes and topics of your class?  Also, what was invigorating about the entire Freshman Convocation event?  Why?  I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts about this talk!  2)  If you aren’t able to attend the lecture or would simply rather discuss the book itself, then I’d like you to do just that.  So, choose a particular moment in (or idea from) ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’ and make some insightful connections between this text and our course themes, or assigned readings.  To make these connections, you might quote from the book itself, and then discuss what Holiday seems to be saying and doing in your selected moment (relative to truth, lies, and journalism) – and why?  Also, what thoughts do YOU have about the subject – how do YOU respond to the issue(s) raised in the book based on your own knowledge or experience?

Tragedy, the Monomyth, and Stories of Creation/Destruction

This week, we are working to lay important intellectual foundations for our class by introducing the classical theories of Aristotle (on the subject of tragedy) and the recent scholarship of Joseph Campbell (on the “monomyth” and the mythical hero).  To more fully comprehend the theories in question and the first mythical stories on the syllabus – myths of creation and flood/apocalypse stories from the ancient world – I want see how you can tie them together in a very specific way.  You have two options for this exploration.  1)  In the first case, you may apply specific ideas from Aristotle’s theories of tragedy to a specific myth (assigned for Wednesday) of your choosing.  I was particularly thinking that it would be interesting to see how the plot of your chosen tale fits certain “tragic” modes (such as leading toward a “catharsis”), or to consider how the characters fit Aristotle’s ideals – especially of the “tragic hero.”  2)  On the other hand, you might work with and through key ideas from Campbell’s influential scholarship.  If, for example, you would like to explore the notion of a “monomyth,” you might compare/contrast the similarities between several of the creation tales.  Alternately, it might be interesting to think about how a given story depicts the stages of the hero’s journey according to Campbell’s terms (i.e. separation, initiation, return).   For this first Blog post of the semester, it’s all about applied critical thinking – and it will be interesting to see what kinds of intellectual connections you can make by utilizing the ideas of Aristotle or Campbell.

On the Dangers of “Single Stories”

For this Blog post, I want to build on our work from last class by “reading between the lines” and working to analyze and examine crucial, controversial material that is NOT found in a particular story of your choosing.  Specifically, you are to write 2-3 paragraphs of careful, in-depth analysis on the dangers of “single stories” (to borrow deliberately from Chimamanda Adichie’s well-known TED talk).  In general, the goals here are for you to:  Use your critical thinking skills to build upon Adichie’s ideas from her popular lecture; and practice your skills in critically reading a notable historical or political story – skills of the very kind you will be using for your final writing assignment of the semester.

With these goals in mind, here’s what I would like for you to do in your Blog post:

-For your topic, I want you to pick out a significant narrative “text” that is either written BY someone from another culture, or written ABOUT some person or occurrence from another place.  You might, therefore, select a literary story or some other form of media narrative that deals with important historical or political ideas (a feature news story or even photograph would qualify here).  OR, as an alternative here, if you would like to address a problematic “story” that has emerged in the wake of the controversial 2016 presidential election, that would be acceptable as well.

-Because the goal is to use and build on Adichie’s ideas as a way “in” to some other “single story”, you should quote her talk and use her specific words and ideas in your discussion.

-As Adichie says, the truth is that “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  So, in looking at your chosen story, you might ask/answer the following questions (in some way):  What other stories are there but do not get told?  What are some of the most important gaps or omissions in your chosen story, and how can you tell?  Perhaps more importantly, what are the ramifications of these gaps for what the reader perceives to be the “reality” of the situation, the “truth” of the society or political idea in question?  Putting things even more simply, if you “read between the lines” and deconstruct the narrative (in terms of what is seen but also NOT seen), what do you find – and why is this so important??  To answer these questions will likely require a bit of research, and the key is to bring some intellectual nuance to an overly-simplified “story” that will, in the process, allow your reader to more fully see the “big picture” in regards to the situation in question.

The Rhetoric of Rebellion

In recent days, we have been perusing the argumentative writing of rebellion.  To borrow the famous phrase used by one of our authors, you have been exploring influential writers who used words as a powerful form of “civil disobedience.”  For this blog post, I want you to think carefully about one of these assigned readings (by Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X).  For your post, I would like you to consider one of these works in two different ways.  First, I want you to really think long and hard about the words and written approach of your chosen author.  Why, exactly, is their writing so powerful, so engaging, so convincing?  Be as specific as you can be in considering how your writer makes their point, and makes it well.  Then, I want you to talk about your personal view of their argument.  Do you agree with their “rebellious” perspectives, and why?  How, exactly, do you feel about their “disobedient” contentions and social challenges?  In total, your Blog post should be (at least) two in-depth paragraphs long.

On “Truth”, Christopher Columbus, and MLK, Jr.

I will not be able to meet with you all on February 4th, but we can still do some vital work with regards our unit theme of “truth” – and that is precisely what I want to do through your first Blogpost of the semester.  For “class”, you are to choose one of two well-known articles to read, written by Howard Zinn and Derrick Aldridge, respectively.  Then, for your Blog post, I want you to respond and share what you found to be most striking about the “truths” illuminated in your chosen article.  Please note:  your response should be no less than two robust paragraphs in length.  If you choose to respond to the Zinn article, you might consider, for example, the question of what, exactly, the “truth” is concerning Christopher Columbus’s journey?  What are some of the main obstacles to really knowing the “truth” on this contentious subject?  Also, does Zinn’s account demonstrate that it is “inevitable” that the writing of history takes sides?  Alternately, if you choose to respond to the Aldridge article, you might explore the ways in which Martin Luther King, Jr. is characteristically (and narrowly) portrayed in the mass media, working to identify which of his ideas are most commonly communicated to the public – and to think about why he is portrayed in this way.  Furthermore, what gets lost for those who aren’t able to see beyond the “master narratives” that Aldridge describes concerning King?  For both of these articles, what are the broader implications for our perceptions of the “truth”?

“Reading” Art

Artist Francis Bacon noted directly that “Everybody has his own interpretation of a painting” and he is also quoted as saying that “I don’t believe art is available; it’s rare and curious and should be completely isolated; one is more aware of its magic the more it is isolated.” Bacon has had a famously contentious career, and his work would be a fine choice for a critical reading exercise.  A week ago in ‘Readings’ class, we spent a day analyzing and interpreting photographic images.   For this final Blog post of the semester I want to do a similar activity, or at least to practice similar skills – a focused type of reading that is especially important for some of you doing your final projects on the topic of art.   In this case, I want you to choose a favorite piece of art and “read” it, examining its various parts and details in order to “deconstruct” the artwork and make meaning out of it.  To do so, you might refer to the photography handout given to you in class, which provides a series of cues and questions you might ask when “reading” an artistic image of this kind.  For your Blog post, I want you to think critically about your chosen piece of art and “interpret” its cues as you deem fit, providing us with two detailed paragraphs of analysis and discussion.

Reading Between the Lines (or, the Dangers of Single Stories)

For this Blog post, I want you to “read between the lines” and work to analyze and examine the material that is NOT found in a story.  Specifically, you are to write 2-3 paragraphs of careful, in-depth analysis, and the aim here is for you to:  1)  Use your critical thinking skills to build upon the ideas of Chimamanda Adichie in her well-known TED talk on “The Danger of a Single Story”  2)  Practice your skills in critically reading a story of your choosing – skills of the very kind you will be using for your next formal writing assignment.  With these goals in mind, here’s what I want you to do for your Blog post:  First up, I want you to pick out a narrative “text” that is either written BY someone from another culture, or written ABOUT some person or occurrence from another place.  You might, therefore, select a literary story or some other form of media narrative (a feature news story or even photograph would qualify here).  To borrow from Adichie’s words, in reality “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  So, in looking at your chosen story, what other stories are there but do not get told?  What are some of the most important gaps or omissions in your chosen story, and how can you tell?  Perhaps more importantly, what are the ramifications of these gaps for what the reader perceives to be the “reality” of the situation, the “truth” of the society in question?  Putting things even more simply, if you “read between the lines” and deconstruct the narrative (in terms of what is seen but also NOT seen), what do you find – and why is this so important??

Interrogating Social Identity

In recent ‘Readings’ classes, we have been considering the challenges of “stereotype threat” through the ideas found in Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi. In hand with that exploration, we have been introducing the Critical Thinking concepts of ‘paradigms’ and ‘assumptions’. This Blog post is an extension of that work, and in many ways the hope is that you tie these various threads together in some way by offering up your response to your Interview and, in that response, negotiating the assumptions and paradigms at hand as well as exploring the stereotypes or “threats” felt by your interviewee.  As mentioned on the assignment sheet, your task is to explore the experience of someone with a different set of social contingencies than your own, and to report what you’ve found in an insightful way.  So, taking into consideration the additional details found on your assignment sheet, please present your interview and share your thoughts about just how we ARE all living “under a cloud” (to use Steele’s terms) as a result of our identity contingencies.