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@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
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SERVES REVISITED AND YOUR FIRST "RETURNS":
STUDENT WORK (1): BEST SERVES OF OTHERS

Through question 4.6 I was hoping to test the student perceptions of good posts here in unit 2 against mine and to get a sense of what criteria they were using to make their choices, especially in comparison to unit 1's question 2.12.  Since there were 5-6 members in each group and there were three posts during the unit, each student had 12-15 serves from which to select the best (if all group members posted).  Except for examples 1 and 2 below, no post got more than one vote, but four students each got three votes total, so there was a good bit of unanimity about the best servers.  Those four students are represented here but also, for comparative purposes, one who got but one vote and one who got no votes.
Survey question 4.6:  Look at the serves of your group members.  Which one would you choose as the best?  Be specific – identify the person’s name, as well as date and title.  Why would you choose that one?  What makes it a good serve?
1)  Student L's serve:  Too Many Halos 

Wow!  What a powerful read!  The story of Uncle Tom drew me in with its tremendous variety of interconnected characters.  The way Stowe weaves the stories together is quite impressive.  I can see why the work was so influential in its day.  Who couldn’t empathize with the steadfast, loyal, martyr, Tom, the courageous and beautiful Eliza, and the angelic Eva?  These are terrific, (albeit somewhat one-dimensional) characters.  However, the one thing that irritated me about the novel was, save for the author’s closing note, I felt that the novel lacked the true sense of rage, urgency and disgust that the enslaved blacks must surely have felt.  Most of the characters, with the exception of Cassy, seemed unaware of the absolute injustice of the entire system.  Sure they attempt escape, but only when circumstances necessitated it; I never truly sensed a burning resentment in any of them.  If Stowe were alive today, I feel as though I’d like to say, come on, this is slightly unrealistic.  Where is the hatred? Where is the fire?  Why doesn’t Tom just rub Legree out and be done with it?  I would hypothesize that Stowe was either treading lightly, or being a shrewd politician.  The saintly qualities of many of the characters clearly are easy to empathize with.  What do others think?  Did this issue irritate anyone else or am I just a cynical detester of sentimentality? Nominations:
  • _________'s first post on 9/14 called "Too Many Halos" was good.  I find myself constantly disagreeing with her, and thats why i like her posts so much, i find it personally helpful to read her lucid arguments and see what i think about the subject after reading her thoughts on it.  whether i change my mind or decide my like my original opinion on the matter more, i always appreciate her insight.  it was short, with a catchy title, insightful, yes, the big buzz word...poignant.
  • I picked __________'s post because it was her initial reaction to the book.  I don't think you can analyze anything you can analyze anything unless you've taken a stand and try to find arguments for/against your standpoint.  Here she voices her own opinion and asks for everyone else input. Questions=discussion!  Though there wasn't much concrete information I still think it was a really good way to get the ball rolling for other ideas and opinions.
  • I would have to say my favorite post was _________'s first post, which was also the first post of the novel!  Her post, too many halo's, looked at the one-dimensional characterization in the book, and the fact that some of the characters seemed "too good to be true."  I thought it was an intersting way to challenge the novel, and i found i fully agreed with it.
My reflection:  3 of L's 5 group members chose this post as the best serve -- pretty damn good average.  And maybe the first thing I want to notice is how different this serve is from her serve "Ignorance is Bliss" in unit 1.  There she did not serve socially and wrote in a distinctly essay style.  Here, however, in unit 2 she has transformed completely into a discussion-friendly style.  Very fine!  There's a personal voice, direct address, energy, excitement -- passion.  It's hard not to feel engaged by this serve, and I have to feel that's basically what the group members were responding to and what they remembered when they came to do the ranking.  A model serve, indeed -- good judgment on the part of her nominators!

2)  Student B's serve:  individual morality amidt communal immorality


UTC was a fantastic book, and an extraordinarily quick read for me.  I have to say that what most struck me was when Stowe consistently attacked Northerners who refused or did little to help escaped slaves realize their dreams of freedom.  One person (the slave) by himself can not make a difference, but because it Stowe is so completely positive that it is sacrelige of the greatest kind to make another man your slave, she believes it is all of our duty (specifically, RELIGIOUS duty) to band together and help slaves in any way we can.  Shelby and Legree are vile, but indifferent or hesitant Northerners are just as bad.  Indeed I did see the importance of community stand out in this book.  What made the community issue so complex is that, while it is relatively simple for a community to unite behind a common goal ... what if the goals are different?  Stowe, as aforementioned, is sure which goal is the righteous one: to abolish all slavery both in terms of legality and as an acceptable mental perspective.  If she truly believes that community was one of the primary ways to end slavery, this book is about much more than slavery. It's about the fact that there is indeed power in numbers, and the understanding that the strength of one can be vastly amplified by the help of many, which is something I have always believed very strongly about.  Amazing.

Nominations: 
  • I think I would have to say ________'s "individual morality amidt communal immorality" on Sept. 14th was very good.  I liked the way he "internalized" the novel.  Its clear that the book "reached" him on some level.  I also liked how he tied in the idea of community, something that we've been discussing in class quite frequently.
  • individual morality amidt communal immorality on sept. 14 from ________.  He brought up a lot of interesting points and really made me think about other issues that existed.
My reflection:  B got 3 votes total, and 2 of his group members chose this post the best serve.  This serve is not as social as I might have liked nor as Student L's above, but it is well written, shows some passion, and, in fact, the first nominator seems to value it precisely because it doesn't reach out.  And though it is very much an "I think" and "I believe" serve, it certainly is thoughtful, sensitive, and mature, and the second nominator affirms that it kept the conversation going.  It's interesting that in comparison to Student L's change in serving style from unit 1 to unit 2, Student B's post here is similar to his unit 1 serve.  B has a very strong ego and was a "force" in class, and I found myself wondering whether his style was appropriate or not.  His strong individualism seemed to be a constant tonic to the class, however, a quality that might be missed if he were more "social."  Something to ponder.

3)  Student J's serve: Children and a hope for the future

As I have already pointed out in my previous "serve", Stowe created internal contrasts within her adult characters in the novel.  Most importantly, the white landowners who are seen as good and benevolent still uphold racist values.  These men and women are good to a degree.  Slavery and racism will not end if left in their hands.  But the author does not leave the reader without hope of a better day.  The white children she describes are like rays of light on a cloudy day.  George Shelby, a young boy at the begining of the novel, display true compassion and love for Tom.  He weeps for Tom's departure and vows to find him and set him free when George is old enough.  Unlike many of the promises made by adults to set Tom free, George is the only one who comes through.  Also displayed as a saint in the novel is little Eva.  Her love for all people, regardless of race, is shown in great detail.  When Topsy feels as though noone loves her it is little Eva who hugs her and proves that Topsy is loved.  This is a major step for any white person to show affection towards a black.  Her faith in God and love for people stand in defiance of inequality.  Stowe uses the children to spread hope that in the future the new generations will stand up against slavery and racism. She knows that those currently in power are too weak and embedded with the ideas of white supremacy.  It will take an open and educated generation of men and women to abolish this inequality.  We are left with George Shelby vowing to, "do what one man can to drive out this curse of slavery from [his] land!"  The reader has hope of a brighter day.

Nomination:
  • I thought _________'s post titled "Children and hope for the future" 9/17 was a very well written and insightful post.  What enticed me about _________'s post was his ability to pick out a unique aspect of the novel, the role of children, and offer his own peronal and intuitive opinon.  I guess because the post highlighted something that I had not really seen in the novel, it sparked many ideas in my head.  Solid serve, with some great observations.
My reflection:

J is another one of the four students to have three serves nominated for best post.  He began serving socially better than almost anybody else from his very first post in unit 1.  Ironically, this is not a good example of that kind of post.  It has the rounded feel of the mini-essay rather than the open feel of a serve.  J's thesis is that the hope for the future is depicted through the children and not the adults, and he elaborates on George and Eva to make his point, ending with the rousing affirmation that "The reader has hope of a brighter day."  The post is quite polished and even eloquent in lines like "The white children she describes are like rays of light on a cloudy day."  The nominator is surely correct that this is a "well written and insightful post," but I am going to be grouchy and whine that the good content is not presented in an obviously inviting way for our purposes -- a  judgment borne out by the fact that it generated these dead-end "agreeing" responses:
  • Children are our hope for the future.  This novel wanted to get people to realize the horrors of slaver and have sympathy for the blacks, but I think it also wanted the readers to have hope for the future. Children see things so clearly, and especially in this novel we see that.  Most authors llike to use the 'tactic' of children in their works.  Children always see things that adults look past.  They are the clean slate.  Stowe does a good job of making the children have love and compassion for people unconditionally.  
  • Hey _________, great point.  The future of slavery and children trapped in it was definitely a great concern in the novel.  I think Stowe knew as well that the current owners would not free their slaves, and maybe just hoped to plant a seed into the readers' minds that might grow in their future generations.

4)  Student  P's serve: LOST MY MIND

alright, maybe it's just me... but thinking about it now, mr. shelby is the worst of all the other slave owners in the novel.  yes... i said mr. shelby is the worst, and by worst i mean the most morally dispicable.  st. clare treats his slaves as property though he never truly commits himself to saying that he agrees with the situation, he rather seems to think that it is necessary. and legree doesn't seem to see that it's wrong at any point in the novel- so morally, he's excluded.  legree cannot be immoral because he's a-moral (he doesn't know any better).  so that leaves st. clare and shelby.  as i've already said, st. clare pretty much knows that slavery will eventually end, how he's not sure, but in the meantime he'll make use of it.  shelby on the other hand is torn just selling two of his slaves because he is worried about them and the treatment they'd recieve on another plantation... if he were THAT concerned about the welfare of his slaves, he wouldn't have slaves!!!  so i'll say it again, and maybe i sound like an idiot, but mr. shelby is a morally lower human being than simon legree.  let me know how ridiculous that sounds.

Nominator:
  • I liked _________s "Lost My Mind" on September 17th.  I thought it was a great serve because it raised a good point; whether or not his argument was valid seemed to take the backseat to the thought-provoking nature of his post.  I appreciated the different perspective he presented about morality and human nature.
My reflection:

P is the last of the servers who received three votes.  It's not hard to see why his group responded positively to his serving style.  He's rough and ready, hot off the press, and shooting from the hip.  He dares people to call him an idiot, and the nominator describes his engagingly split response to P's strategy -- admitting provocation by a questionable argument.  P's view of Shelby shockingly inverts the moral "lowerarchy" of slave holders by clearly showing the "rational" step-by-step process by which he makes his decision. Thus, he invites rebuttal at several points.  He makes it easy to get into a conversation.  An interesting and effective approach, I would say, and one that bears comparison to J's smooth and cool style above that led to dead ends.


5)  Student T's serve: Why are we still reading it?

Prof Gallagher mentioned in class that UTC was the best selling book for something like 60 years.  The book delt with some of the most important social issues of its time.  Why are still reading it?  Our country no longer practices slavery (as far as I know).  Race relations are an important topic today, but does this book do more damage than good?  Slavery ended close to 150 years ago, so do we still want to be thinking of blacks today in terms of ex-slaves?  If my family had been slaves 150 years ago, I would not want to be though of as a member of a family of ex-slaves; I would want to be though of in terms of what my family has done since then.  I would feel like there was an eternal cloud hovering above me.  Maybe it is damaging to blacks, as a race, to keep thinking of them as ex-slaves.  I think the book offers an important look into the lives that slaves led, and it offers a perspective of slavery that is difficult to get anywhere else. But how are we supposed to use the book today.  What should we be looking to take away from Uncle Tom's Cabin that we can use in today's society?

Nominator:
  • I think the best post was ________'s post, Why are we still reading this.  His post was made Mon. Sept 14, at 4:30 and my return was made that same day on Sept. 15th.  While I did not agree with what he was saying, I did have the strongest reaction to his post.  To me, that qualifies it as a good post.  It made me think the most.  If something dosen't make you think, than what therefore is its purpose?
My reflection:  Ok, T's post got one vote, and a solid, exemplary serve it is.  T shows his community antennae were up by indicating that a point about the history of the book brought up in class needs to be resolved.  He states his question very clearly in the beginning -- "Why are [we] still reading it?" -- and then deepens it quite significantly -- "does this book do more damage than good?"  The focal point for member  response is unmistakeably clear.  T is white, as was everybody in the class, and, intriguingly, he uses a black perspective from which to argue.  It is curious to think that a book that did such good for blacks 150 years ago might be a danger now, curious to think that a book that whites might be proud of blacks might find problematic.  T's questions and perspective open up a variety of doors for discussion from censorship to multiculturalism.  His post ends with an engagingly direct invitation to his group to consider more seriously what use the book has today -- certainly not a trivial matter.  This serve is thoughtful in content and discussion-friendly in form.  It has significant potential for opening up valuable conversation.


6)  Student S's serve: Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree

The weak defense given to characters such as Marie, is she is a product of her time, culture and social status.  However if we are going to defend Marie with this why shouldn't the same defense be placed on the slaves that Marie characterized as evil and sub humman.  Modern experiments have been done in prisons where inmates are treated as humans with respect and they act in accordance, civilized.  In other prisons with similar make ups the inmates are treated as less than human and act in accordance.  You treat them like men and you get men you treat them like animals and you get animals.

My reflection:  Here for comparison is a post that got no votes.  It is manifestly a poor serve, but what specifically might be said to S to make that clear to her and to trigger improvement?  I felt lost at the very beginning of her post.  I wasn't exactly sure what the issue was.  I had to pause to figure out that S was attacking reasons giving for defending Marie.  But who defended Marie?  And where?  We aren't told.  We aren't set up properly.  It seems S starts us at the second or third step of a conversation instead of the first.  Part of the problem is the syntax of the first sentence -- it's confusing.  Now, I say that the posts are informal writing and one shouldn't sweat a lot over polishing, but here is a case where a too cavalier approach to clarity is destructive.  S just has to be more careful that we are on track with her from the very beginning.  Then the second sentence compounds the problem for me.  Has someone not recognized that slave behavior is the result of how they are treated?  I don't get it.  I feel in a gnarl.  I don't see the relation between defending Marie and defending slaves that seems to be the crux of S's topic.  The core issue won't crystallize for me.  And then, finally, I feel no invitation to respond.  The post seems written as a flat statement.  On all levels, then, this serve is a failure for me, and, frankly, I think I'd have to say to this student that a complete revision is necessary here, that no simple tinkering would do.  Start over again on this one, S!