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Through question 4.12 I was hoping the students themselves would identify a range of interesting return situations to look at that they had trouble with for one reason or another -- either because of problems on the server side or their side.

Survey question 4.12:  Look at your returns.  Pick 2 or 3 that are interesting to talk about for some reason.  Not necessarily your "best," but ones perhaps that represent a variety of situations that returners face.  One may have been easy for you to do, and your return was immediate.  Another might have been hard for some reason because of the nature of the serve or the complexity of the topic, requiring a lot of thought about an appropriate response.  In one you might have felt you had to be diplomatic because you disagreed, in another supportive, and in yet another provocative, etc., etc..  Talk about 2 or 3 situations, and the nature and the strategies of your returns in them.  Please be specific, indicating the person to whom you are responding, the date, and the title of the post.

1) The "dead-end" serve

Student L's survey comment:  One particularly difficult return to make was in response to [Student N's] "starring..." on Sept. 18th.  I found it difficult to reply to a post that didn't really offer any arguments, point of view or questions for exploration.  I didn't really have much to say in response, hence the very brief response.

Student N's serve:  As for the adapted screenplay of UTC, I can see a major plot twist in which Uncle Tom's not a slave in the 19th century but rather a suspected felon in the 21st century. Tom Uncer (Uncle Tom played by veteran Forrest Whitaker) and his younger confidant Hakim (Harry, Eliza's son played by Don Cheadle) are wrongfully suspected of a murder in a backwards Southern town and are about to be wrongfully imprisoned when they skip out on the bail and head for the hills, or "Mexico".  The District Attorney, Robert E. Lee Haley (Kevin Spacey), pulls out all of the stops and brings the house in terms of forces to hunt down Uncer and Hakim in a vulgar fit of rage.  Hakim's mother, Eliza, meets up with the two in New Orleans to assist their safe getaway but learns at a bar that a ruthless bounty hunter, Moses "Midnight Toker" Loker (Harvey Keitel) has been offered a hefty reward by D.A. Haley to reel in Uncer and Hakim and bring them back to him--dead or alive.  And so on and on it would go, all the while displaying how many, many racial prejudices and injustices still exist today in America...more than 150 years after Stowe penned her landmark work.

Student L's return:  Wow, I'd be interested to know what director tackled that one!  I'm not sure that I would be interested in such a "different" adaption of the novel.  However, I'm sure that it supports the contention of many that Stowe's work is clearly a classic; that it has to the potential to reach audiences generations removed.

My reflection:  N's serve did not engage L, and it is easy to see why.  N's launch into his film version of Uncle Tom's Cabin comes "out of the blue."   I encouraged students to come to class five minutes early at which time I showed short clips from silent and recent film versions, but there was never any class discussion of existing films or speculating about new ones, so there was no common context  that might have prepared L to engage with N's topic.  Nothing about this was "in the air." 

What to say to N to suggest improvement?  Perhaps that the serve seems too much a testament to his imagination and film knowledge.  That for the most part he seems to be stroking himself.  Like look at this great scenario I came up with!  And that maybe applying the principles of writing socially would help here.  For instance, turning his last sentence into a provocative opening question and using his example as stimulation: "Many racial prejudices and injustices still exist in America today, but does Stowe's story have impact today?  I don't think so.  But I think if her plot were given modern dress, it still might pack a whallop.  For instance . . . .  What do you think?"

What to say to L caught in the situation of having to "keep the conversation going"?  That's the tougher question.  Actually, though, I think she did the right thing; perhaps she just didn't elaborate as much as she could have.  It looks to me that what L did was to "see" beneath the surface here, to see the "arguments, point of view or questions for exploration" that weren't explicit.  She saw that N was asking about the need for a "different" version, and that train of thought could have been spun out.  Suppose, for instance, L said something like "Though you don't actually say it, the basic question you are asking here is . . . . and I would say . . . ."  That's sort of doing N's work for him and turns L into a kind of rescuer of the conversation, but I think that's the advice I would give her in this situation.  Find something that saves the dialog.  N obviously has a bright mind, and maybe there will be value if L points it in a more productive direction.

2) The "pat on the back" return

Student P's survey comment:  in some of my posts i was almost too agreeable not adding much to the discussion, while in others i seemed a little bit forward in my disagreement... i think those are two situations to look out for.  my response to [Student M's]  post "too much?" on 9/15 was the first case... it was just a pat on the back essentially "good post".  

Student M's serve:  I can't help but comment on the books structure, even if it's only the first 1/3.  I admire Stowe for the way she set up this book so far.  Choosing to write about something so controversial is hard for any author, but structuring this book so that people from all walks of life are characterized is so perfectly fitting there's no wonder this book is so highly acclaimed.  OK enough of that.  I have one comment on the characters in this book I'd like to throw on the table.  So far, the slaveowners are either overly kind or unnecessarily cruel, reguardless of sex.  I have yet to notice a medium, they're all representing the extreme ends of the specturm.  I almost want to call them inhuman. On the cruel side, there's no feeling of remorse or pity, they're just programmed to do a task, like a machine.  Eliza's husband has been unfortunate enough to fall into their hands before running.  We see the slave trader attempting to seperate a child from his mother, etc.  The only other side you see are the overly nice people Eliza runs into on her journey.  Yet, with them, the mother gives away her dead son's wardrobe?  Granted that was a very noble thing to do, but isn't that a bit much for the times?  There is just so much hatred coming out of the "cruel" side, and yet eveyone else acts as though slavery needs to be abolished in no more than 12 seconds.  As for the others, the slaves and the children, they are the only people acting the way I had expected.

Student P's return:  that's a very good point considering that MANY slave owners were in fact torn over the issue of slavery.  they saw it as morally wrong, but at the same time they realized it was a necessary evil in their lives.  looking back on it now, stowe really does a poor job of addressing the "average" slave owner and as you pointed out, she stays with the extremes...

My reflection:  P correctly describes the situation here.  All he is, is "agreeable" -- returning with what I call a level 1 dead-end post.  I was interested to see whether M's serve "caused" the flat response, but I certainly wouldn't say so.  M's serve seems quite thoughtful and offers opening for response.  The fault here is not M's.  He signals he's "throwing" an idea out for discussion in good writing socially fashion, and he certainly develops his idea in enough detail to serve as a reasonable stimulus for response.  No, nothing to indict M on here.

But what to say to P?  Certainly I recognize that not everybody can be responsive every time.  We live in a fallen world.  And, in fact, I sense that P recognizes his own culpability here, sees that he didn't do what he was supposed to and is capable of doing.  So, he's confessing here, and maybe all I need do is give absolution and say "Go and sin no more."  But if he needs an example, I could always nudge him to another student's return to M in the same thread -- like O's below.

Student O's return:  I definitely see what you mean about Stowe portraying the slave owners as "either overly kind or unnecessarily cruel," but at the same time, that makes me ask that when it comes to slave owners, is there really a medium?  Maybe it's just me, but I can't picture a slave owner being nice some of the time and cruel other times.  Maybe by medium you just mean a toned down version of Stowe's slave owners, though, and that is probably more the reality of how they were.  I realize that Stowe's characterization of the slave owners is taken to the extreme, but as _________ pointed out, it was necessary for Stowe to get her message across.  I think she was just emphasizing the characteristics of the typical types of slave owners.

My further reflection:  O begins with a clear transition and a level 1 question designed to open up the discussion a bit, even weaving in a reference to a third person whose post had bearing on M's topic.  Thus, if P himself agreed with M simply because of no other option, O's post provides a suggestive alternative way of proceeding.

3)  The serve"I couldn't really understand"

Student K's survey comment:  My response to ________'s "Women?" of September 18th was probably the most difficult because I could tell that she was trying to explain some important tidbit that she noticed, but I couldn't really understand exactly what was going on.  I tried my best to give my opinion of what I thought she was talking about, but it took a while.

Student C's serve:  Ok so here's a new contrast I thought I would point out.  I was thinking about how Mrs. Shelby has almost no say in what happens to her "slaves".  She is the kind, good-hearted woman who only wants the best for them.  But when Mr. Shelby decides to sell the slaves- she doesn't want to send them away and her opinion really made no differnce.  It "had" to happen and it did.  Her voice wasn't REALLY heard, and in my opinion if Mr. Shelby really cared about her and the slaves he would have found some way around it.  But on the otherhand, Marie had complete charge over her slaves.  She sold them at her will, she treated them terribly and was outwardly MEAN.  And again---no one cared that she was that way.  Is this society just filled will self-centered people that don't care about one another---even if they are white?!  Maybe there are many other people jsut like Mrs. Shelby that jsut aren't heard and aren't strong enough to stick up for what they believe is right.  They allow themselves to be walked over by people like Marie that have been brainwashed.  And as obvious as this is---it's funny that 2 people from the same white side have such different outlooks.  You could say that Mrs. Shelby was a slave in having to follow these louder voices.  I just think there is something deeper in this than I can even find myself---anyone else have anything that might dig at this a little bit deeper?  There'sthis controvery between the whites that is never addressed---or is it just because Mrs. Shelby is this one in a million type of character that Stowe chooses for her story?  Are there things like this happening today that everyone is overlooking?(thats kind of scary if there is!)

Student K's return:  Im not sure exactly what is being debated here.  I agee that Mrs. Shelby is a bit subservient and fails to make her beliefs known.  She seemed to be a quite appropriate character for the novel in my opinion, simply because she seemed to fit the part for the wife of a plantation owner during this period.  Women were not expected to have a large influence on their husbands affairs, and the ones who did were an rarity.  Anyways, i think that this controversy you talk about, the one that is never addressed, is a product of the times and the great number of taboo subjects that were subtley prevalent.  I guess you could say that controversies like this one had an impact in only increasing the tensions that lead to the Civil War.

My reflection:  Hmm, C's serve is a bit long but, in my view, not overly so.  It is also a bit rambly but, again, in my opinion, not overly so.  In fact, I kind of like the sense of C's mind thinking out something that bothers her.  I am, in fact, a bit bothered by K's reference to C's topic as a "tidbit" and am not sure why he has trouble seeing C's focus, which, to me, is pretty clearly stated: "There'sthis controvery between the whites that is never addressed."  Hmmm.  But at least K's opening transition sentence invites C to clarify, which is straightforward and will keep the conversation going.  It looks to me that K's problem is that he doesn't see a problem (his sentences 2-3-4).  Given that, he tries to keep the conversation going in the last part of his return, which is good, but, ironically, I can't follow his thought there!

4)  The serve that "made such a good point"

Student J's survey comment:  I had trouble responding to [Student V's] post on 9/15 "The Birds" because I felt that she had made such a good point that it would be hard to follow up with a provocative return. 

Student V's serve:  I found Mr. and Mrs. Bird to be really interesting characters in UTC because I beleive Stowe's intension for using this couple was to show how even those who were against slavery weren't very useful in fighting against it either.  They were hypocrits!  For instance, Mr. Bird, a senator, is described as being against the idea of slavery by using the dialogue of his wife, but he still votes for and tries to justify a law prohibiting the free society from sheltering fugitives from Kentucky.  And although Mrs Bird lashes out at him for it, I counted numerous times in this chapter where Mrs. Bird refers to the slaves as creatures!  So, she may be against the idea of using the black community for slavery, but she still doesn't see them as equal, and neither does Mr. Bird.  Their acts of kindness toward Eliza and her escape are appreciated by the reader, but it doesn't change the fact that he voted to stop many others form doing the same for others.  These two really annoyed me in these respects, as I think they were supposed to.  They are used to show that although small efforts were made, the whole picture encompassing the cruelty of slavery and the inequality of the races was still missing, as was the extra mile necessary in making real things happen for these people.  Stowe's use of a politician in this case was a very affective way of getting that point across.  I thought it was very provocative of Stowe to state so cleary that the politicians were the ones were needed to make a difference, but that difference won't be made by making those efforts in secret, or behind the backs of the lawmakers.

Student J's return:  I have to agree with your comment about the Bird's as hypocrits.  I think that really hits home with a major issue of the times.  Even though some individuals, even powerful individuals, might have thought or acted against slavery the overwhelming racist attitude of many white people pervades.  The Bird's think they are good and fair people for wanting slaves to be free but would never consider blacks as their equals.  I think Stowe tried to push this point multiple times during the novel by describing multiple benevolent slave masters.  Do we like them because they treat slaves well or do we hate them for being racist?  I wonder if any of these people ever stopped to realize that ending slavery and racism starts with an attitude not an action.

My reflection:  Yeah, yeah, I think I see J's problem.  V, throughout, was one of the top 3-4 students in the class.  And, like most of the top students, she tended to write mini-essays rather than serves.  There is a kind of completeness and closure to her serve, a rounded quality that does not especially and obviously invite response.  J's return is basically a level 1 "agreeing" return, and he felt that was all he could do.  Now, V would be a candidate for writing more socially to facilitate response, but I think J can be stroked for concisely stating the problem V raises ("Do we like them because they treat slaves well or do we hate them for being racist?") and, in the last sentence, for the "wonder" that keeps the door for more conversation open.  J does what he can here, and I have seen in his other posts that he had one of the best senses of social writing in the class.  I might also point out to J that he could "re-direct" conversation to a new topic (a level 3 response).  I usually think of that happening after several exchanges rather than the one here, but that is an option to keep the conversation going if you are stuck.  Move your server on to another topic!

5)  The serve that asks "questions that I have never even thought of"

Student B's survey comment:  Replying to [Student M's] post "Everybody's dead!" on 9/18 was difficult.  I felt i wanted to reply but I just didnt know how.  I thought it was a good and relevant question but sometimes (well, a lot of the time), posters ask questions that I have never even thought of and it throws me off.  My response to him was kind of lame, but i still think it was the right response to make given his question.

Student M's serve:  Here's a fresh one.  I understand Stowe's overall purpose for writing this book, but what the hell is the point of killing off all the characters in the end?!?  I can see getting rid of St Clare, to show how the slaves are nothing more than property that are sold off with the rest of the assets.  What about Eva?  She was one of the good players.  My only thoughts on her death are to first, give her selfish mother something new to complain about, and Second, to show Tom the meaning of death (that scene was so touching!).  Her death does do a lot for Tom and his religious beliefs.  I assume this mind set is what leads to his own demise, as he dies standing up for his religious beliefs.  Then, finally, there's Shelby.  So all the good people die in the end?  What are your thoughts?
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<!--[endif]-->Student B's return:  good question...i guess that's the reality of slavery in the end.  maybe the message is "there's no happy ending while the concept of slavery still lingers in the minds of people in this country"?  or, maybe it was because Stowe's melodramatic and was making her story even more gushy just to prove her point.  it all depends on how you want to look at it, and how well you think Stowe accomplished the proving of her point (once you figure out for yourself what her point was).  Yeah.....this isnt the best answer.  But seriously, it comes down to how you yourself view it, and what you want to take from the message at the end of the novel.

My reflection:  M nicely serves socially, I think.  I like his catchy opening.  Effectively raises expectations.  Then a clear question.  Then enough detail to make the question meaningful and understandable.  Then back to the question at the end.  Great focus.  So B says returning was difficult because the question catches him off guard?  Hmm, does he expect that there is nothing he hasn't thought of?  Ha!  Well, in actuality B was one of the great talkers in class, and he did give the impression that he had "the word" on everything.   But, ok, he was thrown off guard, still I think he begins his return in a good way -- ticking off possible answers.  The answer to your question, Student M, could be this or this.  I wish B had brainstormed a few more possible answers, in fact.  I think then he would have done a very good return indeed.  You can imagine M picking up on one or two from B's list and running with them in a third step in their interchange as they move toward possible consensus.  But, more importantly, I wonder if what's behind B's comment that his return was difficult is the idea that he had to have an immediate answer to M's direct question.  I think maybe so, knowing him.  So, I guess the thing to do would be to remind B that we are looking for conversation here and conversation that moves through several steps and that his job is to keep the conversation going not to ring the bell for the end of the round.  B is the kind of person who needs to learn to slow down and savor the process of working with someone toward gaining knowledge.