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One of the things I asked students to do in question 5.13 was to select the best return they received.  Here are a few examples of the responses to that question.

Survey question 5.13:  Finally, please reflect on the returns you received to your serves.  Go one day at a time.  How many returns did you receive on 9/29?  Classify each return as one of the 11 kinds if you can ("3 returns: 1 agreeing, 1 enhancing, 1 disagreeing").  A return might have more than one element in it; if so, make a judgment about what the main one is.  If you cannot classify a post by one of the 11 labels, give it a name of your own that describes what kind of response it is.  If you had to pick one, which return would you say was the best?  Please specify the returner's name.  How would you label it?  What is your reason for picking it?

1)  "using my idea"

Student O's survey comment:
 3 returns: 1 slightly disagreeing but then building, 1 that seemed like re-thinking and re-directing and 1 enhancing and building.  I liked ________'s return the best.  I think I'd classify it as re-thinking an re-directing.  I chose his because I liked the fact that he encorporated my serve and other returns into his return and how he uses the ideas presented to come up with his own new idea.

Student O's serve:  Ultimate insignificance   While Crane showed the various struggles that Henry dealt with while fighting in the war and the brutalities of the war itself, he seemed to contrast that with his descriptions of nature and the land in which the fighting took place.  These descriptions really stood out to me because at times they seemed almost out of place.  Crane goes from depicting scenes of battle or death to scenes of peaceful nature.  The one line that really said it all to me was that “it was surprising that Nature had gone tranquilly on with her golden process in the midst of such devilment” (89).  Crane seems to be showing that while all of these internal and external battles are being waged, the world around us still goes on as usual and with complete disregard for what’s happening.  I think it’s showing the ultimate insignificance of war and even death.  Did this stand out to anyone else, or does anyone have any other thoughts on this idea?

Student J's return:  To tell you the truth the whole significance of nature didnt really have that much of an affect on me while I was reading this.  I recognized nature's presence but I didn't care either way...until now.  After Tyler's reply I got to thinking about death and how the forest fit in there.  I'm going out on a limb here but I'm wondering if Henry's time spent in the woods could be compared to an afterlife.  A very weak and scared child ran into the woods when Henry fled the second charge.  In the woods he learned a great deal about himself, life, and the greater meaning of things.  As Henry exits the woods he is reborn a strong and powerful man, able to face his enemies undaunted. Entering the woods, the old Henry dies.  New Henry emerges only after proving himself in the "afterlife".  Maybe?  Just throwing it out there.

My reflection:  O crisply points out a problematic discord between foreground and background in the novel, situates that discord in a key quote, floats a hypothesis, and invites confirming or alternate views.  A good, tightly focused serve.  Interestingly, J immediately admits that nature was not especially on his radar screen, but, moved by  both O's serve and another return in the cluster, he floats an alternative hypothesis about it.  J, then, "weaves" two previous ideas together, "builds" on O's hypothesis, and produces significant "re-thinking" about the function of nature in the novel. Good.  Rather than fighting for her idea or even acknowledging another view to help her thinking, O registers satisfaction that her role in developing the thought of another is recognized.  An interesting sign of community.  Good all around.

2)  "liking disagreement"

Student L's survey comment:  I would have to say that I liked _______'s (disagreeing) response to my post.  He disagreed with me!  I liked that!  I liked getting a perspective that differed from my own.

Student L's serve:  The Red Badge of Egocentrism   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 reflections:  L's excellent serve shows up in other examinations of student work in this unit.  She clearly seems to want to provoke disagreement.  M "disagrees" with L's evaluation of the story, but he accepts her characterization of Henry and "builds" on it to make his new point.  That's an interesting strategy.  M offers L a way to change her mind through a development of her own thinking.  Good. 

3)  "disagreeing with tact"

Student R's survey comment:  (disagreeing, disagreeing) Only _____ and _____ responded, and their posts were similar, but i would have to say ______'s was better because she went about it in a more tactful way.

Student R's serve:  the living dead   I think the most powerful part of the book, for me, was Henry's march in the line of wounded soldiers.  Crane uses vivid detail to show a the wounded soldiers all shuffling their way, most likely to the medical tent.  This part stood out most to me because it shows Henry's interaction with these men.  While Henry is not one of the wounded, he finds himself wishing he was.  He is jealous of the men with their "red badges of courage."  What is Crane trying to do with Henry's interaction among the wounded men?  I feel that Henry seems to belong with the wounded men, even though he has not suffered an actual flesh wound.  Henry's wound from battle appears to be hurt pride and conscience.  I feel this is an integral part of the story and that it is a necessary transition point for Henry's maturation.  Why does Crane choose to compare and contrast Henry to this battillion of wounded men?

Student O's return:  I found your idea "that Henry seems to belong with the wounded men, even though he has not suffered an actual flesh wound" to be very interesting.  I mainly found it to be interesting because it's so clear that Henry doesn't feel that he belongs among the wounded men.  He wants to be like them and tries to fit in, but when confronted about where he was hit, Henry becomes ashamed of himself and embarrassed.  The wounded men were men who had been courageous and who had fought, and they seem to remind Henry of the courage that he lacks himself.

My reflection:  Ha!  R says Henry " finds himself wishing" he was part of the wounded soldiers, whereas O says "it's so clear that Henry doesn't feel that he belongs" there.  O tactfully implies only that the discrepancy is "interesting," which is what R responds to with, I guess, relief.  But why would R expect that he would get whacked?  And why doesn't R fight for his position?  Why so timid, Student R?  One can stand up for oneself and still be part of a community.

4)  "making me think"

Student V's survey comment:  He disagreed with my post and told me why.  He made me think about what I said, rather question it, and that is effective.

Student V's serve:  I don't get it   I found myslef not being being able to relate to Henry at all, which seems to be the ocnsencus of everyone thus far.  This kid was a sissy with a major ego problem.  At first, I could understand the question of whether or not he would run or stay and fight, but after he ran, and then proceeded to justify his actions by putting down the other soldiers' decisions to fight as well as the decisions made by his superiors, I felt himself the "fool", not them.  Thereofore, in considering the first half of the novel, I had no idea what Fleming's purpose was for writing this novel.  If he was trying to make his audience aware of the conditions of war and of the transitions that men underwent in thier exposure to it, the message is weak becasue Henry is weak.  On top of which, I can't look at the novel from a soldiers's perspective via putting myself in Henry's shoes becasue I don't think Fleming takes us there.  He falls short of doing this becasue of Henry's narcissism.  I will ponder on this novel further as I havenore time to think about from other perspectives, but I reckon, just based on my first imprerssion and absolute detest for the maon character that my feelings will not change much.  We'll see.

Student B's return:  You call it "Henry's narcissism," but I think his thoughts are just a testament to his adolescence.  Like i said in my post, I think he's just a kid, full of doubt.  What he wants isn't what he can have, and what he thinks is important, nature argues otherwise (because it refuses to stop for death, and it refuses to stop and praise valor).  I think he's just really lost, but I want to suggest to you that maybe that's the point in this first half.  He's not a sissy, he's just ... well ... as confused and frightened as any one of us would be if we were in something as unyielding and chaotic a thing as war.  I think that's where we can all relate to Henry's character; his weakness is what makes us like him, not what should make us detest him.

My reflection:  B's "disagreeing" tone is mild and understanding, which helps make his post an effective return.  He doesn't slam V -- in fact, her open-minded tone defuses that kind of response -- nor does he slam Henry: he's just a kid, full of doubt, lost, frightened like any of us, etc.  He immediately isolates V's key point (narcissism) and contrasts it with his own memorable phrase (testament to adolescence).  His language sings a bit: "[nature] refuses to stop for death, and it refuses to stop and praise valor"; "his weakness is what makes us like him, not what should make us detest him."   You can easily see why V was moved to re-think her position.  B's post is short but has a lot going for it.

5)  "wondering where my mind was"

Student M's survey comment:
  3 - (all disagreeing, and one being my own) _______ had a good resoponse to this serve.  Her post actually got me thinking whether or not I actually understood the point I was making.  Basically, if a return can leave the one who wrote the serve wondering where his mind was during the composition, it's a good one.

Student M's serve:  the end of everything   After reading over the end of the book again, I have to change my thoughts from those in the last post.  First, he looks at the final battles differently.  The enemy now have faces, and once captured he sees that are, in fact, man, just as he.  Later on, once the fighting is over, Henry goes back over his final moments, and compares them to how he acted in the beginning.  The reader sees fear building up in him again, which later fades as he realizes that he's overcome his former self.  He has an entirely different outlook now, he is not who he once was. This is why he calls himself a man; he has begun to understand war for what it really is and in that, he recognizes his former actions as his stages of maturation.

Student L's return:  I agree with what you've said but I'm a little unclear on what you mean by, "he has begun to understand war for what it really is".  What is this new understanding that Henry arrives at?  What is war?  In my opinion, Henry is not so aware of his process of maturation as he is conscious of the need to relegate the past to the past.  I agree with your statement that comes to see the enemy as men, as opposed to some singular force which must be destroyed.  However, I believe that it is partially this realization that allows him to come to terms with his "unheroic", reprehensible past actions.  But I don't know that he ever truly understands war for "what it really is".  He describes it as a "red sickness" (212)and gains confidence from his ability to survive it.  Just as one who emerges healthy from a life-threatening illness, Henry has a new appreciation for life.

My reflections:  M may be exaggerating his obeisance to L's post, but it actually does make some severely challenging points.  For instance, the line "Henry is not so aware of his process of maturation as he is conscious of the need to relegate the past to the past" is a kind of stunner.  M needs to crawl off in a secluded corner and ponder that with all the intellectual resources he has.  M looks like a surface reader, whereas L is a quite subtle reader.  She returns on a higher level, offering M the possibility to re-think a whole range of ideas.