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RETURNS REVISITED:
STUDENT WORK (2): RESPONSE OPTIONS

The return posts in unit 3 were the first return posts after a pretty thorough indoctrination on my three-leveled tier of response options.  Here are examples of unit 3 interchanges from each of the three levels, most with comments by the returner from answers to survey question 5.10.

Survey question 5.10:  What would you consider your best return?  Why?  Which of the 11 kinds is it?  Or if you can’t classify it that way, how would you describe your method?  Please specify the date, the name of the post, and the person to whom you responded.

Level 1

1)  Agreeing

Student L's serve:  
After reading Crane’s Red Badge, I feel as though I deserve some sort of medal myself.  I approached the novel with an open mind and while I wanted to like it, I found myself fighting a losing battle of my own.  I hated this work.  I found it to be dark and quite disturbing.  While I did not expect a novel about war to be funny or light-hearted in nature, I was not prepared for this.  While Crane does an amazing job with his vivid and poetic descriptions, the novel failed to engage me.  I found myself detesting the main character for his narcissism and eccentric thoughts.  And then it dawned on me; I hated him because he exposes that which we attempt to conceal and deny in ourselves.  Henry Fleming is the monstrous blemish that appears without warning on prom night.  He brings the ugliness of human nature to the surface.  He is a narcissist and exceedingly insecure.  But I think that if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll agree that there is a little bit of Henry in all of us.  Throughout the novel Henry conveys a sense of disconnectedness.  He separates himself from the unified body of the regiment, deeming himself a “mental outcast” (65).  He feels alone, afraid and terribly misunderstood.  He judges others for falling prey to the same weaknesses that he himself is subject to: “As he recalled their terror-struck faces he felt a scorn for them.  They had surely been more fleet and more wild than was absolutely necessary.  They were weak mortals” (153).  He is temperamental and given to bouts of seemingly unfounded rage.  It takes a bloody war to teach him that HE IS INSIGNIFICANT.  This realization is for me, one of the most satisfying moments of the narrative: “New eyes were given to him.  And the most startling thing was to learn suddenly that he was very insignificant” (171).  Now I’m sure others will disagree with my negative characterization of “the youth”, and I invite the argument.  I personally found him to be disturbing because I was never entirely successful in distancing myself from him.

Student N's return to L:  Yeah, funny how we forget that we are indeed, nothing but mortals.  I remember talking to a Vietnam Vet once about his memories of war.  "War is hell", he said. "I can't say anything else.  War is hell."  I think Crane realized this, as well.

Student F's return to L:  _______ brings a very interesting point to light; Henry Fleming is the monstrous blemish that appears without warning on prom night.  What a great anaolgy.  I agree with _______ especially when she reinstates the point that Henry reveals what we as people attempt to hide and deny in ourselves.  This is so true.  In effect, then, he is not cruel and intolerably selfish any more than our internal thoughts are.  Naturally, I did not want to admit this accurate realization and depcition, however, it is unavoidable and unmistakable.  While I did not love the novel, it was interesting enough to read.  I feel that Henry disasscoiated himself from the regime, because he was scared and because he thoght himself to be righteous and more useful.  When he eventually did sucumb to the blatant truth that he was afterall insignificant, it is ironic that it takes a war for him to realize this.  ________ I enjoyed your opinion and agreed for the most part.  I too, would be interested in reading opposed views.

Student T's serve:  Crane's message in Red Badge is clear at the end of the book. The ending shows an old Henry acting when nobody else is capable.  Red badge, to me, was about a Henry facing a difficult situation and prevailing, ending up as a better person because of it.  I think the story is obviously about war, but on a broader scope, I think its message is about dealing with adversity. War is an extreme example of adversity, which makes Crane's point that much clearer.  We see the emotional difficulties Henry faces while dealing with his adversity.  Was Crane trying to show us that everyone has doubts in themselves when faced with their most difficult moments?  

Student A's return to T:  good question.

My reflection:  Well, three return posts from hell!!!  Three examples of level 1 "agreeing" posts that dead end conversation.  We can expect this once in a while (it isn't always possible in this fallen world to have something scintilating to say), and agreement certainly can have its genuine and legitimate place once in a while, but Students A, F, and N were consistently the lowest quality discussants in the class.  This is the kind of thing they did almost all the time.  By this mid-point in the course, they should be operating at a higher quality -- no question.  Both serves, but especially L's, deserve much better.  These are the kinds of responses that must severely discourage servers (but look below for M's higher quality response to this serve by L).  A's return is, in fact, downright insulting -- death to community.  F writes more than she usually does and the quality of her writing is good, but she spins wheels in content, not advancing the conversation beyond L's superb serve.  The agreeing post seems a natural tendency, but in my experience it is virtually always poison to conversation.


Level 2

2)  Enhancing


Student B's survey comment:  I think my best return was to [Student V] "Ray of Light" post.  I made it on Sun Oct 5 2003.  It was really an "enhancing return" because i took a serve that she made that i liked and agreed with, and then just tried to broaden it a little.

Student V's serve:  This last part of the book marks the final point where we see Henry as a new "man".  We see him as a man who had, in a short period of time, undergone several transitions into the final product derived from a youth who had witnessed battle, faced his own fears concerning his inevitable involvement, engaged in his first battle successfully, his flee, his encounter of the corpse, the death of his friend, the enlightenment of Wilson, his later achievement in battle, and his final attainment of peace with himself (end of the novel).  In every instance of Henry's transition, the rays of the sun are described, and are always shining through.  Not only is it used as a clear marker and thus a blueprint of the significant points in the novel that contribute to Henry's change, the sun rays also represent the idea that life will go on, that the sun will rise tomorrow despite the events of the day.  "Nature has no ears".  I thought that Henry was an absolute mess in this novel, as any youth would feel being thrown into that situation.  His feelings and his persona bounced all over the place in this book, but he changed.  But I thought the interesting thing about it was that Crane does this intensionally.  However, he eludes to the fact that the character will become a different person as the novel progresses by use of the sun.  Henry's visions of it and thus the readers image of it, reminds us that although Henry is lost in the first half and thensome of the novel, there is light at the other end of the tunnel.  This is may be a mood point, but as I went back and looked at the way Crane uses nature in the novel, I thought it was pretty cool.  And since no one else brought it up and everything else has been touched upon, he you go.  This isn't the only way nature is used in the book, and maybe I've missed some more point about Carne's use of the sun.  Anybody want to take a shot?

Student B's return:  Nature's place in RBC is very wisely and cleverly used, and I really noticed and appreciated it from the beginning.  While you make a really interesting point, as _________ said, about the particular use of the sun, Nature is quite clearly shown in stark contrast to War on many different levels.  Firstly, almost always, it is a picture of almost surreal tranquility amid the gruesome reality of war.  But secondly and more importantly, it keeps going and never stops.  when i first read the book, i only considered the sun a physical extension of Crane's philosophy on nature.  the sun sets and rises no matter how terrible the day, how wonderful a victory, how tragic an event.  Nature keeps chugging along and in a sense undermines our greatest achievements, and comforts us duing our worst moments.  At once the ridiculous nature of war is observed; Crane sees it as a single war so pointless and trivial in the grand scheme of things, and I think that's his primary purpose of using Nature.  Did you ever find instances of anti-war statements while you were reading, and if so, was it through nature that you felt this anti-war sentiment was being implied?

My reflection:  Yes, I would say this is a good example of an "enhancing" post.  V, alert to avoiding a stale topic, focuses on Crane's use of nature, especially the sun imagery that marks the different changes in Henry's development.  B agrees that Crane uses Nature significantly and well and advances the conversation by providing examples of two other ways that Nature is important in the novel.  B "enhances" -- supplying additional evidence for V's original point.  B is also adroitly careful of avoiding a dead-end post by simply supplying what is called for by opening the topic not only to additional linkages between Nature and the anti-war message but also to other vehicles for that message.  Nice job, B!

3)  Answering

Student T's survey comment:  I think my reply to [Student S] post 'The Common Man's View' on 10/1 was the best.  I think I liked it because I was trying to show a viewpoint that was totally different from the server's.  I had a fundamentally different view of Henry, and it was challenging trying to convince ________ why my view was more logical.  I thought this reply was classified as answering.

Student S's serve:  I have read a lot of war stories over the years and after reading so many I have become desensitized to them.  They no longer affect me as deeply as they once did.  This is my second time reading the Red Badge of Courage and I don't like it anymore than I did the first time.  Henry is an anoying character who is in the war for the whole wrong reasons.  He is not there because he belives in the cause or because he is dedicated to his brotherhood he is simply there because he is out for glory. The most striking aspect of any of the other war works I have read has been the bonds between the soilders and the justification of the cause.  I do not sense a justification for the cause or even a sense that he is dedicated to those he is fighting with.  This begs the question what is he doing here in the first place.  An attitude of rebellion and wanting glory will get you killed in war.  A sense of justice and brotherhood will keep you alive.  Verterns talk about rescuing a buddy form death because of their bond or believing so strongly that they were just in their plight.  These ideas keep people alive, Henry is not there for any of them, why is he still alive?

Student T's return:  In today's politically correct world, it might not be acceptable to strive for glory in war.  However, I can relate to Henry's yearnings for recognition and purpose.  Battlefields have long been a proving ground for men, perhaps like today's corporate world.  Men leave the nest for New York or L.A. to stake their claim and leave their mark.  The same opportunity for accomplishment probably didn't exist for Henry, so his road to self-fulfillment was bravery in war.  Many men were celebrated for their fighting success, much like modern day CEO's are celebrated for their success in the boardroom.  Maybe the comparison is too much of a stretch today.  I do, however, think that if we keep in mind that we are reading about a war that happened in a completely different time period, the connection is easier to see.

My reflection:  Student S questions what motivates Henry because she doesn't see the traditional expectations about the motivations for soldiering, and T provides an answer through a modern lens.


Level 3

4)  Weaving


Student L's survey comment:  I would say that my best return was made in response to [Student D] "You in or Out Henry?" on 9/30.  In this serve, I attempted to answer [Student D's] question by contextualizing, using supporting examples from the tezt.  I also attempted to "weave" [Student M's] argument into my reponse as I thought it was very relevant to the subject matter.

Student L's return:  Hmmm.  Does the accident really give Henry "a second chance to become a hero"?  Or does it simply allow Henry to return to his regiment?  [Student M] references Henry's chronic internal struggles with guilt.  Henry frequently images that others can see his inner thoughts and that they are judging him and making a mockery of him.  For Henry, they are, "a society that probes pitilessly at secrets until all is apparent" (121).  When Henry receives his "badge of courage", he is able to justify returning.  He is able to allay his concerns that his regiment will look shamefully upon him.  But I don't know that he would look like a "fool" if he were to return unscathed.  In response to your question however, I do think that Henry recognizes that being a "hero" is not all.  In fact, he talks about glory and its relation to war and realizes that it is simply a staying force for the soldiers.  That is to say, the promise of glory is what keeps them from running.  But all thoughts of heroism are pushed aside when it is time to do battle.  During battles, the machine-like reflexes take over.

My reflection: 
My experience is that what I call "weaving" is, by far, not something that comes naturally.  The overpowering natural instinct is to reply directly to the host post.  The obvious reflex is to return to the server.  Students focus solely on what is in front of them at the moment.  But in a group discussion I'd like the students to always have their antennae up and to work in (weave in) whatever will help make a good return.  Here L, one of the 3-4 best students in the class, brings in a point by Student M to her return to Student D, implicitly inviting D to read or re-read M's post, while simultaneously stroking M for the value of his work.  Good.


5)  Building

Student R's survey comment:  My best return would have to be 10/1 to [Student O] "The loud soldier," I feel this post was building post.

Student O's serve:  Since most people seem to have been posting about Henry, I thought I’d focus on a different character—Wilson, also known as “the loud soldier.”  While I view Henry’s changes in the book as subtler and mainly internal, Wilson undergoes a huge transformation from the beginning of the book to the end and he changes noticeably externally as well as internally.  Wilson goes from being this loud, opinioned and almost cocky soldier, to returning from battle a much calmer and more reliable soldier.  Battle forces Wilson to mature dramatically.  I think that Crane uses the character of Wilson to show the strong effect that war and battles and death can have on a person and the way in which it can change them.  Wilson realizes his own insignificance, which is something that Crane is trying to show us all.  The whole incident with Wilson, who was certain he would die in battle, giving Henry the package to deliver to his family also shows his initial immaturity.  When he asks for the package back, the change in Wilson can clearly be seen.  I could go on, but maybe other people have some more thoughts on this.  How do you think Wilson’s character fits into the novel and the messages that Crane is trying to get across to the reader?  What do you think the purpose of having a character like Wilson was in the novel? What did it show you personally?  Any other thoughts to add?

Student R's return:  Not only do i feel that Wilson was vital for Henry's growth as a person, i feel that the two drew power and strength FROM each other on the battlefield.  When the two are paired up, they fight like immortal warriers, seemingly invinvible to the other enemies fire.  I do not feel that Wilson is just a supplement to Henry.  I also see Wilson as somewhat of a foil for Henry.  Wilson seems to have reached his maturity before Henry.  He is much more modest, soft-spoken, and patient.  Henry still had yet to learn these traits, even most of the way through the novel.

My reflection:  I think that's a fine serve by O.  She's consciously trying to diversify the conversation by moving to a discussion of Wilson rather than Henry, and she succinctly frames a discussion of his character by laying out the salient points before concluding with a series of questions.  Now, R calls his return a level 3 "building" post rather than the level 2 "answering" post that it could be, but that only calls attention to the artificiality of my proposed categories.  No matter.  In fact, O's questions really seem to ask for a "building" response.  And R does a good job, describing Wilson as both synergizer with and foil for Henry -- both interesting and provocative points that take O's ideas to a new level.  However, R's return is a bit too lean for my guidelines -- I wish in many cases that students with good ideas would run with them more -- and I would be pushing him to recognize that more development would enhance further conversation.


6)  Disagreeing 

Student M's survey comment:  My return to [Student L] "the red badge of egocentrism," was my best post.  Her serve got me thinking.  I had a lot of ideas flowing through my head once I finished reading, and it was easy to get them down and build a good response.  I had a lot to say and I believe, with the claim I made, I produced a good argument against what she said.  Obviously then, I'd classify it as a disagreement.

Student L's serve:  After reading Crane’s Red Badge, I feel as though I deserve some sort of medal myself.  I approached the novel with an open mind and while I wanted to like it, I found myself fighting a losing battle of my own.  I hated this work.  I found it to be dark and quite disturbing.  While I did not expect a novel about war to be funny or light-hearted in nature, I was not prepared for this.  While Crane does an amazing job with his vivid and poetic descriptions, the novel failed to engage me.  I found myself detesting the main character for his narcissism and eccentric thoughts.  And then it dawned on me; I hated him because he exposes that which we attempt to conceal and deny in ourselves.  Henry Fleming is the monstrous blemish that appears without warning on prom night.  He brings the ugliness of human nature to the surface.  He is a narcissist and exceedingly insecure.  But I think that if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll agree that there is a little bit of Henry in all of us.  Throughout the novel Henry conveys a sense of disconnectedness.  He separates himself from the unified body of the regiment, deeming himself a “mental outcast” (65).  He feels alone, afraid and terribly misunderstood.  He judges others for falling prey to the same weaknesses that he himself is subject to: “As he recalled their terror-struck faces he felt a scorn for them.  They had surely been more fleet and more wild than was absolutely necessary.  They were weak mortals” (153).  He is temperamental and given to bouts of seemingly unfounded rage.  It takes a bloody war to teach him that HE IS INSIGNIFICANT.  This realization is for me, one of the most satisfying moments of the narrative: “New eyes were given to him.  And the most startling thing was to learn suddenly that he was very insignificant” (171).  Now I’m sure others will disagree with my negative characterization of “the youth”, and I invite the argument.  I personally found him to be disturbing because I was never entirely successful in distancing myself from him.

Student M's return:  I do find some of his mannerisms to be absurd, but I don't go as far as you to say that I dislike the story because of it.  The fact that it accuratly depicts human nature is what interests me. You mention that Henry represents the uglyness inside all of us.  He is that which we try to conceal.  Then wouldn't it make sense for all that to come out during times of war, when we are weak and vulnerable?  War is supposed to bring out the worst in people, this is how they change.  They see the monster that they can be and it scares them.  The war is showing Henry who he really is, and he can't stand it, that's why, in my opinion, he acts the way he does.

My reflection:  Here is good student L again with another beautiful post.  As I said above, L was one of the best 3-4 students in the class, and her posts were consistently excellent.  It is interesting to note, however, how her serves have changed since unit 1, where I saw her as a prime example of writing essays rather than posts.  This post is as scrupulously crafted as her earlier "essay" offering in unit 1 ("Henry Fleming is the monstrous blemish that appears without warning on prom night" -- is that great or what?!), but it has the social quality now, which can be seen clearly in her invitation to argument at the end.  In fact, one almost feels that the slightly over-the-top quality of her post is a ploy calculated to provoke disagreement.  And M does disagree -- thus opening up the possibility of new ideas.  Well and good but -- here I go again -- I wish he'd let loose about it.  The return is only 2/3's or so of the minimum size guideline.  Ugh.  The writing is good -- "They see the monster that they can be and it scares them" -- but I would like to see more development, both for the writing practice and for the critical mass that will fuel further conversation.  Make your disagreement stick, M!