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SERVES REVISITED AND YOUR FIRST "RETURNS":
STUDENT WORK (2): MY BEST SERVE


Through question 4.5 I was hoping to probe student perceptions of their own best work -- both what it is and why they felt that way.  Would their perceptions match my own?  They served three times in unit 2. 

Survey question 4.5:  Look at your serves.  Which one would you choose as your best?  Be specific -- identify date and title.  Why would you choose that one?  What makes it a good serve?

1)  The "truly original" serve

Student R's comment: I would say my second serve was my best serve.  Although it was the hardest to come up with, it was truly an original idea, and i think i put it together very well, allowing for additional volleys.  I also stuck closely to the five eyes outline and it had a catchy title.

Student R's serve:  St. Clare or Saint Clare?  I think a very interesting person to look at is St. Clare.  I've had a very hard time forming an opinion of the man.  While he is a slaveowner, he also owns slaves, so would this make him less credible as a person?  He does not seem particulary affectionate or extremely trusting with his slaves.  He actually seems quite neutral in his slave ownership.  It seems that he buys slaves for other people in his house, but does not hold direct control over a single slave himself.  There is one quote on page 280 that adds to the mystery of St. Clare.  Miss Opheilia asks if he thinks slavery is right or wrong.  He answers, ".. If i answer that question I know youll be at me with half a dozen questions, each one harder than the last... im not going to define my position.  I am one of the sort that lives by throwng stones at other peoples glass houses, but i never mean to put up one for them to stone."  Does anyone have any thoughts/opinions on St. Clare as a person?  What about his attitude towards slavery?

My reflection:  Well, we may need to discount R's claim to true originality, but I agree that this is an effective serve.  One of the inevitable activities while doing Uncle Tom's Cabin is judging the variety of slave owners Stowe ranges before us.  St. Clare is a key figure in this second section of the novel, and he is a troubling figure -- the paralyzed intellectual.  R recognizes that and socially lays out the situation in his serve with some key details designed to open up discussion.  His examples are clear and well chosen, his questions tightly focused, his subject an important one.  R might have expanded on why it's important to have an opinion on what work in the novel Stowe means St. Clare to do, but he could reasonably assume that as a given.   Yes, R, good serve!  

2)  The "reader-friendly" serve

Student A's comment:  i think that black and white was my best post, it deals with some very crucial details of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and it discusses some topics that should be thought about, and might have normally been overlooked.  It is also reader-friendly, kinda short , but tight.

Student A's serve:  black and white Stowe does an excellent job of making her audience feel for the slaves as well as making the tyipcal white owners appear to be...bastards.  I hated reading the part where George is talking to Eliza about having to drown the dog.  He said that he fed it scraps and his owner told him to kill it because he can't afford to feed it.  George refused to kill it, and took a flogging.  His owner proceeded to tie a rock to it and throw it in the lake.  This writting is very disturbing to me, but the more I think about it, the more engenious it is; the more powerful it is.  This part alone manages to make the reader (even unknowingly) take the side of George.  It's kind of like the psychological pairing of good and bad.  The reader associates the owner with evil or plain cruelness, while pairing George with righteousness and morals.  It was a great technique and it was used carefully and effectively.

My reflection:   This is an analysis-type serve.  Student A finds one especially striking scene that helps achieve the larger purpose of the novel, and he crisply presents it in the context of his own passionate response to it.  That is good, and, in that respect -- that is, content-wise -- this post is a better one than the example of his work in unit 1.  But Student A still needs work on the writing socially aspect of serving.  He seems to define or equate "reader-friendly" with a short, tight post.  Those are good traits, he exemplifies them here, and the post is better because of them.  But his presentation here is not especially designed to invite a response -- for instance, he proclaims that "It was a great technique" -- and that is the area I would ask him to develop.  Here, for instance, he might have ended asking if anybody saw similar episodes -- thus, enhancing his point.  Or he might have outlined the scene and asked his group members to help him determine why he found it disturbing and ingenious.

3)  The serve that "would make people think"

Student G's comment:  I really liked my serve, The Role of God, this was made on the alst serve.  I liked this on because i expressed the thing that was most bothering me while reading the book-Tom and his belief in Christianity.  I liked this serve becuase I think that not too many people felt the same way I did, and that therefore, it would make people think.  I sorta called into question the purpose of religion.

Student G's serve:  The Role of God  I had wanted to say this last class, but thought that I would instead bring it up on blackboard.  This concerns religion, and while I am not very religious, I hope I do not offend anyone reading this.  I find it hard to understand why Tom, despite slavery, and all that happens to him, still reamins such a devout Christian.  George, however, I can completly understand.  I wonder why then, George and Tom do not have similiar views.  Even as Tom is being sold by his master, a man that trusted him, he still believes God is there for him.  "I'm in the Lords hands...notin' can go no furder that he lets it...and the Lord, he'll help me,- I know he will."(pg 163)  I feel, that if I were in Tom's position, my words of God would be much harsher.  I wonder why Tom dosen't even question God here.  Why dosen't he ask him what his reason is for doing this to Tom?  I also wonder what Stowe's intention was for doing this.  I think part of her intention is to characterize blacks as ignorant.  As for George, I can better relate.  He dosen't feel apart of this country, and understandably so.  "My country!...what country have I, but the grave...but what country have I, or any one like me, born of slave mothers.  What laws are there for us? We don't make them- we don't consent to them- we have nothing to do with them; all they do for us is to crush us, and keep us down."(pg 185)  The words that come out of George's mouth seem like the words of a 1960's radical.  I should to like think that George and Tom would have an interesting conversation on the subject of obeying the laws of a country that dosen't even consider you a citizen.  I also question Stowe' intention in giving George these words.  It might seem that Northerners and Southerners might see George as headstrong and unruly.

My reflection:  Ahhh, a student bothered taking her bothering out on us -- I love it!  So nice to see passion at the root of discussion.  I like what G is doing here, but I worry that her focus and force and impact might be lost in such a long post -- probably 400 words when my guideline is 150-250.  Or am I just being a stuffy English teacher?  The post is long, but, though it's not formally polished, it certainly isn't chaotic or difficult to follow.  On the contrary, it is cleanly structured and easy to follow.   And I think her serve should make people think, as she wants.  So I'm not sure I would say to her that it should have been cut down, but I think I would suggest to her how it could have been if she had wanted to.   For instance,  G says, "if I were in Tom's position, my words of God would be much harsher."  Well, ok, maybe she could have turned to the audience engagingly right there and ask what their words would have been.  And, intriguingly, she says,"I should to like think that George and Tom would have an interesting conversation on the subject of obeying the laws of a country that dosen't even consider you a citizen."  Perhaps she could have turned to the audience right there and asked them to draft several exchanges in such a conversation.  Things like that might provide a crisper was of actively engaging the kind of radically new thinking she seeks.  But, again, maybe I ask too much, for it seems to me that Student G has successfully initiated here a  very explosive topic.

4)  The serve that "goes at the root of it"
    
Student Q's comment:  Sep 19 12:30 ENough Momentum to post again?  I like this serve because it des not go after the work itself, but goes at the root of it: The author.

Student Q's serve:  Enough momentum to post again?  These quadruple posts are getting to me.  I don't know if I have any steam left!  Well let's see.  SO much to talk about.  SLavery in this book, as we have talked about, is shown for the first time in our nation's history as the evil it is.  What made this book such a good seller?  Was it the fact that it talked about the blacks?  That it talked about the unspeakable? Maybe it was a sort of taboo for the northerners.  Everyone wanted to say it and talk about it, but Stowe was the first person to come along and do it.  For whatever reason this book hit it big.  Why was Stowe so against slavery?  What gave these people the power to rise up against the accepted ways of slavery and help end it?  With Edna we talked about how the author pretty much wrote herself into the book.  WIth this story though, could Stowe have been doing the same?  Did Stowe imagine herself as a slave?  Was she in a position in life that she felt like a slave?  This work is produced by anbother woman, pehaps an important trend.  This post has no purpose, other then to just let some of my thoughts flow out.

My reflection:  Q certainly has steam enough left to flow out eight questions!  I like informality in the discussion board space, but this post feels a bit too cavalier.  The colloquial opening would be ok in and by itself, but when paired with the blowing off of the post at the end, I think we got trouble in River City.  Throughout the class Q had a kind of joking persona, which made him popular.  He never seemed to take things very seriously.  That may have been just a surface self, but the ending here seems quite out of place and no joke.  The purpose of writing on the discussion board, Student Q, is to keep the conversation going, not to simply drain the mind!  Why would I want to respond to a person with this attitude?  Now, in terms of the strategy of the body of the serve, we see the eight questions.  Questions are a way to get discussion started, but when they are shotgunned like this in a kind of rippling mechanical way it's too easy for them to lose significance.  Though it may seem that more questions mean more opportunities for response, I think a reverse feeling may arise.  The way to go is a question or two that are carefully prepared for by a shaping context that enables the audience to see where they are coming from, what they are based on, and what significance they are.  A series of shotgunned questions give the impression that the server is simply going through serving motions, that the returners are to do the server's thinking for him or her.  Not good.  Best for a server to start a train of thinking and then show the point where a meaningful question arises that the audience can help with.  That's what I mean by a shaping context.  So, I have several problems with Q's serve.  I don't really see Q going to the root of it, but, rather, simply shaking the branches.


5)  The serve with "a lot of feeling"

Student M's comment:  My serve on the 17th, "Hail Marie" is my best so far.  As I said in my profile, I like complaining, and that's precisely what I did with this post.  I remember writing this.  I remember a flood of ideas coming mind, and it was easy to add textual evidence to suppot my claims.  The only problem I ran into was trying to keep my language respectable.  I think what makes this a good serve is that it has a lot of feeling.  I like the idea I threw out, that Marie is a example of how the extreme, white, selfish slave holders saw themselves, and their property.  I also thought my the example I chose, out of a number, was the best for my claim.  Eh, I was just well thought out.  

Student M's serve:  Hail Marie  Pardon my language but Marie StClaire is such a bitch.  Here is someone that thinks just because she suffers a headache, that she is worse off than the enslaved race.  I do believe this is Stowe's purpose for including her, she shows how prejudice the human race can be. Just look at everything else that is going on in the book with reguards to the african race.  Families are being being torn apart, people are being worked to the bone, children are dying, nevermind the fact that they have no freedom.  Now there's Marie, a white person with a migrain who acts as though her problem is the biggest thing in the world.  Look at the last paragraph on page 263, where she complains about Mammy coming down with something.  She states Mammy "makes a fuss about every little thing."  I think she can just turn that finger right around.  With how highly she reguards herself, perhaps she should follow in the foosteps, or wake I guess, of Edna Pontillier.  It will certainly take care of the headache!

My reflection:  Aww, I can't share M's enthusiasm for this post, but it does raise my own periodic question about whether I am too narrow-minded in my growing and perhaps hardening conception of what a serve should be.  M remembers this post well, remembers the flood of ideas, remembers being almost out of linguistic control -- remembers, in fact, a kind of personally orgasmic experience!  There is, I think, a kind of masturbatory quality here even in the self-pride of the last sentence.  But where is the realization that the purpose of a serve is to start a conversation?  I don't feel it in M's comment or in the serve itself.   But am I too stuffy here?  Am I rigidifying?  Am I seeing my  categories and my way as "the" way?  Am I forming some sort of theoretical construct, when, in fact, the only real test of a serve is whether it actually works on the board, in the trenches?  Who am I to to say that this kind of approach doesn't work?  I mean, there are a few people in the class who tend to write in this "writer-based" fashion, and it seems to me that the very force with which they articulate their individualism can effectively generate response.  It wakes people up.  It stirs people up.  If everybody is politely communitarian all the time, maybe we'll end up with a snooze board.  If we had a class of all the same personality types, maybe there would be no electricity.  Now maybe I'm getting far afield from this specific serve to a much broader issue and a much deeper doubt.  But I guess I would say at this point that I would want students to see these kinds of posts and to be aware of my concerns if these kinds of posts are routine with them.  I guess I would fall back on my basic goal for this entire project activity -- that students be conscious of what they are doing on the discussion board.