Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday half-formed thoughts and frustrations

I have been keeping a journal on my computer(s) for about 10 years; I started it in the context of trying to work on my dissertation, and I call it "Thoughts and Frustrations." It has been useful to me in working out various issues, writing-related and otherwise, so I've kept up with it fairly consistently over the years, except for a few months when I tended to journal more by hand than on the computer.

I mention this because I've been thinking some about what I would be doing in next semester's ENGW 1102 (First-Year Writing for Multilingual Students) courses. Typically at the beginning of the semester, I ask them to write a journal about their hopes, expectations, goals, and fears (!) regarding the class. Often, students will mention in those journals their frustration over how long it takes them to write as compared with their native-English-speaking classmates. This is even true for students whose writing seems pretty fluent to me. I get responses like, "It usually takes me two hours to write what my American classmates can finish in 20 minutes." Whether this is true or not, it has led me to think about how I can help students become more fluent in their writing. For the coming semester, I'm going to try requiring students to keep journals as a way of building up that fluency. I was fascinated by some things that Mike Edwards wrote about a few years ago on his blog Vitia regarding a pilot course he was teaching that in part required students to use the 750 words website to write 750 words every class day for a semester. He was teaching U.S. citizens, I presume (he was teaching at West Point at the time), but I think this kind of experience would be even more helpful for multilingual students (actually, I'm making the assumption--possibly false--that all of his students were native speakers of English). (I'm also tossing around terms like "native speaker" that are themselves problematic, but I'm just going to use this kind of shorthand here rather than complicate things. These are "half-formed thoughts," after all!)

I don't think I'll require students to use that website, but instead I'm going to ask them to set up a Google Doc to write their journals. I'm going to ask them to share that doc with me, too, because there are journal entries on particular topics that I will sometimes ask them for. I probably won't require 750 words a day, either--probably 500 instead (though they can write more if they wish). But I hope that I'm being faithful to at least one idea that Edwards mentions--that "writing has become almost like athletic performance: it’s a matter of getting it done, putting in the practice, and pretty soon, practice translates into improvement."


Speaking of practice and improvement, I've been struggling with a paper that I've been working on--the "second project" that I mentioned the other day. I have written a lot in my "thoughts and frustrations" journal about some ideas that I want to try to address in the paper, but I'm finding that it's really hard to figure out how to actually incorporate those issues into the paper itself. It's not just (as I said before) about hating to write conclusions; it's more that I feel the new ideas are taking the paper in a direction that I hadn't originally intended, and I'm struggling with the feeling that I'm losing control of the paper. I have to decide whether losing control of the paper is something to be avoided at this stage or something to be desired...


I had planned to write a review of Hsiao-ting Lin's Accidental State on this blog, but I see that there's already a good review of it at I might still write down some thoughts after I've finished the book (which will be after I finish the abovementioned paper). There are a few things in the book so far that I have some issues with. As the reviewer, John Grant Ross, notes, Lin doesn't spend too much time on the February 28, 1947 massacre. I don't have my copy of the book with me, but I also recall that Lin refers to the massacre/incident as a "riot" (or "riots") at one point. I realize that riots were part of the whole incident, but referring to the whole series of events by using the word "riots" kind of whitewashes the acts of the KMT soldiers--both their indiscriminate and "discriminate" acts of killing.

[Update, 5/25/16: Here is the actual quote, from Accidental State:
On the whole, although it cannot be said that economic conditions improved forthwith under Wei Daoming's administration, the situation did not become appreciably worse. Around mid-1948, as one political report by the British consular staff on the island specified, with Wei's skillfulness and diplomacy, the political situation was calm and no discontent had been permitted to become vocal, thus furthering consolidation of Chinese rule on the island. The new economic measures imposed after the riot, notably the lifting of Chen Yi's state socialism, were originally intended both to pacify the native Taiwanese and to fulfill the ambition of making the island a model for the mainland Chinese provinces. It was thus historically accidental that those post-traumatic measures inadvertently laid the foundation for the subsequent formation of a Nationalist island state and unwittingly sowed the seeds of Taiwan's free market economy. Despite some positive signs coming out in the field of post-Chen Yi Taiwan's domestic affairs, in diplomatic terms, the riot, coupled with a worsening situation on the mainland, had inevitably brought about a gradual shift of American policy toward the island. Such a change of policy, in retrospect, played a crucial part in the subsequent development in China's domestic and regional politics. It was also fatefully entwined with the making of Nationalist China on Taiwan. (56, emphasis added)
I'd also note that twice, when Lin refers to a source related to 228, he calls it "one piece of contemporary scholarly work" (42) and "one scholarly work" (55). In both cases, he's talking about Lai, Myers, and Wei's A Tragic Beginning: The Taiwan Uprising of February 28, 1947 (Stanford UP, 1991), a work that could at best be called "controversial" (it has been called worse!). Perhaps Lin is referring to this book in this way because the authors (at least Myers) also worked at the Hoover Institution, but it is at least curious, considering that I haven't yet seen him refer to any of his other sources in this way.]

[Update, 7/22/16: I wrote a more recent comment on the representation of the White Terror in Accidental State, available here.]

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