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"completely disagreeing" "never entered my mind" "simply agreeing"

Through question 4.9 I was hoping to test the student perceptions of good returns here in unit 2 against mine and to get a sense of what criteria they were using to make their choices,

Survey question 4.9:  Look at the returns you received from your group members.  Pick out the one that you think of as the best (ok, you can list some honorable mentions if you wish). A) Give the writer's name, the date, and the title of the post. B) Why were you attracted to this return? What effect did it have on you?  C) Can you identify the strategy the writer used that makes it an excellent return? D) If you are hard-pressed to choose a “best” because you felt the quality of the returns was low, give a specific example or two (name, date, title) of a return that failed for you and give reasons why.

1)  The "allowed him to see something different" return

Student P's survey comment:  ________'s reply on the first post (9/15).  i liked it b/c he let me know that i allowed him to see something in a different light. that's rewarding personally and i felt good for him b/c i always feel good when i can see something new.

Student P's serve: uncle tom superstar since my group has been discussing the role of religion in the book as a whole, i'll try to add to that by talking/asking about the way in which uncle tom is a christ figure. nowadays, to call a black man (or woman i suppose) an "uncle tom" is to insult them, to tell them that they're not really black, that they dont love their race, that they love "whitey".  if by the same token you were to liken someone to jesus christ, you would be paying them a tremendous compliment, saying that they were saintly, or divine.  i find this fasinating since uncle tom is actually such a christ character himself.  he spends most of his time during the course of the story trying to spread christianity and religion to other slaves.  he gets whipped himself for refusing to beat the other slave, he is actively passive, and in the end he dies, making him a martyr.  clearly the parallel was intended.  clearly stowe would not have forseen that calling some one an "uncle tom" would carry any type of negative conotation (especially to a black man or woman).  and um... well i've lost my train of thought now... so tere ya go, feel free to bounce ideas off of this.

Student M's return:  This is an interesting point, I hadn't looked at Tom as a "Christ figure", but now that you mention it, the final moments with him come to mind. If I'm not mistaken, his new master offered him a position among the elite, so he could maintain order or whatever.  He gets whipped for refusing, and eventually they beat him to death.  He does a lot of suffering for his fellow men.  It is not in his interests to harm them, so he must take his punishment in order to save them.

My reflection:  I would not agree that M made a particularly good return.  When I first saw P's comment, I thought I was going to see what I call on the response options document a level 3 "re-thinking" return.  But what M did was basically a level 1 "agreeing" return.  I don't think M really adds anything to P's thinking or helps the conversation onward.  But maybe the joke's on me.  P values this post because he gets slapped on the back for a good idea, and maybe I should value that more in my scheme -- or at least recognize more the place of such returns in the hierarchy of the students.  P was no shrinking violet in class, though, so I don't think he needed any nurturing to make him express himself in public.  I wish P could experience the power of literally changing a view, not just giving one.

2)  The return that "adds and elaborates" 

Student O's survey comment:  I think I like __________'s return to my 9/17 serve "All Talk and No Action."  I liked this return because it addressed the idea that I presented but then he went on to elaborate and add hiw own ideas.

Student O's serve:  All Talk and No Action  I think one of the more interesting and important characters in the novel was Ophelia St. Clare.  Stowe seemed to portray her idea of a typical white Northerner through Ophelia, and since the novel was aimed at the typical white Northerner, Stowe was trying to direct the lessons that Ophelia learns toward her readers.  Ophelia is a person who doesn’t agree with slavery, but at the same time, she is racially prejudice toward blacks.  Many Northerners were probably just like Ophelia in this respect.  Ophelia claims that slaveholders “ought to educate your slaves, and treat them like reasonable creatures” (271), but at the same time, she’s also appalled when Eva kisses Mammy, and Ophelia refuses to even touch a black person.  When St. Clare presents Ophelia with Topsy, it’s as if Stowe is saying that Northerners are all talk and no action.  St. Clare says to Ophelia, “let me see one of you that would take one into your house with you, and take the labor of conversion on yourselves! No; when it comes to that, they are dirty and disagreeable, and it’s too much to care, and so on” (353).  I think this is Stowe’s opinion of Northerners in general, including her readers.  Still, Ophelia learns to overcome her racial prejudice as she learns through Eva that she can love Topsy.  Stowe is giving the reader an example to follow through Ophelia and telling the reader that they too can overcome their prejudice and can help end slavery by acting out of the love for all human beings that they claim they have.

Student K's return:  I totally agree that Ophelia is portrayed as the typical Northerner.  It seems that Stowe hoped for Ophelia to represented the standard abolitionist view of Northerners, and she hoped for her Northern audience to identify with the character's rhetoric.  Furthermore, Once Stowe has the reader engrossed in Ophelia's ideas and beliefs, it seems she tries to manipulate the reader into learning the same lessons that Ophelia learns from the events that take place, i.e. Eva's teaching Topsy, Eva's death, St. Clare's death.  Not that this is a bad thing, she just uses Ophelia to increase her persuasiveness.  I think that Ophelia's sort of final statement, her letter to Mrs. Shelby, is the product of her experiences and shows the reader that there is room for change.  On another note, I think another important aspect of why this book had so much clout in the North and South is that it was written by a woman.  Women were not oppressed in nearly the same manner as blacks, yet they were thought to be inferior to men in general.  I think if anything the fact that a woman wrote such a poignant description of slavery in the South amplifies her message, because men did not think that women had the intellectual power to create such works, and by proving them wrong, it forces them to possibly re-evaluate their opinions of blacks.  This may be a little far fetched, but it was just something I noticed.

My reflection:  Yes, K's return is interestingly multi-leveled.  He begins in the first two sentences with what I call in the response options document level 1 agreement, but then his "furthermore" introducing the third sentence kicks off three sentences of level 2 "enhancing," perhaps even some level 3 "building."  Then, his "On another note" signals a complete change of direction.  I usually think of the level 3 "re-directing" post coming at the point that a thread has been exhausted, and I wouldn't say that is the case here with O's opening gambit, but K is doing a good thing by opening up to a new subject and providing the opportunity to keep the conversation going. 

3)  The return that "completely disagrees"

Student L's survey comment:  I would have to say that I liked ____'s response to "Too Many Halos" on Sept. 14th.  Although he completely disagreed with my argument, he supported his point of view effectively and was confident in his argument.  I liked the way the post was worded; it was intelligent without being overly formal.  I also liked the way he concluded with a question, inviting further discussion.

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?

Student B's return:  I have to say in response to your post, ________, that I really agree with you about this being a "powerful read."  As for your question of "where's the rage and hatred?", I think the best answer is that such strong emotions as those come as a result of hindsight in many situations - and hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.  While i do think that Stowe was being purposefully tame as she tells the story, I this works effectively and makes the story even better.  While black people feel rage at the treatment of their ancestors TODAY, back then, I think they were simply indignantly but quietly resigned to their abyssmal lives.  An african american indivudual was born a "nigger slave," and this is just the way it was; his/her parents were "nigger slaves" and were beaten and disrespected, and his/her own children would most likely be given the same treatment and title.  While some always did try to rebel, many simply felt hopeless; they were uneducated and without strong leadership, and a lot of the time, there was no where to really run, and if there was, getting to that place was nearly impossible.  In reality, while laws were always passed giving blacks more freedom, social awareness and enforcement of these laws did not change until strong leadership from leaders like King and Malcolm X and US presidents like Eisenhower and Kennedy.  Before this, I do not believe personally that African Americans were ever fully conscious that a true equality could ever exist between blacks and whites.  Along with the inner strength and resilience seen in UTC (like with Tom), a real sense of resignation, melancholy and hopelessness can also be observed (like with Topsy).  I think this quality made the book even better because it was more "true."  If i had seen all lots rage and these rebellious sentiments, it would have seemed like she was exaggerating to make her story resonate more in our minds and I personally think she'd come across as a less credible author.  what do you think?

My reflection:  B's return is certainly a good example of what I call on the response options document a level 3 "disagreeing" post.  L sets this up nicely with a clear, serious exposition of a significant topic written socially.  What you have to like from L is her acceptance of B's disagreement, her recognition that this is intelligent discourse.  What you have to like in B is not only the intelligence with which he comprehensively makes his point but also his rational tone and his inviting turn back toward L at the end with an invitation to field his return.  B was a strong personality in the class, a force, and could be overbearing, but we don't see that here.  "Intelligence" characterizes both the serve and the return.  Here we see two of the best students in the class talking "to" each other from different perspectives.  Disagreement does not have to be disagreeable.  I really like what I see here.  

4)   The "point that didn't even enter my mind"

Student G's survey comment:  But i really liked _________'s return to my post, The Role of God.  He brought up a point that didn't even enter my mind.  This is why i like it so much.  I always think that it is amazing how two people can read or see the same thing have have completly different things going through their heads.  I was too much stuck on the idea that religion is restricting and that it wasn't helping Tom.  I didn't even realize that in actulity, this was the thing that made him stay alive.  It was, in effect, his medicine.

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.

Student T's return:  _________ - I though the same thing reading the novel.  At first I was surprised at how devoted Tom stayed no matter how awful his life was, but after a while I started to understand what Tom was doing.  I was struck several times as to how much healthier Tom was compared to the other slaves, especially on Legree's plantation.  He was healthier mentally and emotionally, and he wasn't wrestling with the bitterness and hatred that the other slaves were.  Religion kept Tom going.  He needed something that he could count on in any situation.  Tom couldn't count on his masters or his family because they could all be taken from him.  Today, we gain strength from our family and friends.  For Tom, he found strenght in somehing that noboday could take from him, something that he could count on, without a second though, through everything.  I think it was the feeling that Tom had at least one thing in the entire world that he could rely on and that would be there for him no matter what.  It was this feeling of security that kept Tom saner and happier than the others. 

My reflection:  T's disagreement causes G to re-think her ideas, and one could ask nothing better from community interchange.  It's worth noting that T's strategy of beginning aligned with G is subtly effective in predisposing her change of views.  T's return is a good example of the effectiveness of firmly based disagreement in promoting learning and why on the response options document I call it a level 3 post.  If there had been a third step to the interchange at this point, G would undoubtedly have posted a "re-thinking" response, another of my level 3's.  As it stands, her survey comment is, in effect, her re-thinking post.

5)  The return that "simply agreed"

Student H's survey comment:  I only had 1 return and nothing really stood out about it.  ________ simply agreed with my statements regarding the similarities in Marie from UTC and Edna in The Awakening

Student H's serve:  Marie vs. Edna   Although much more obvious and ridiculous in her statements, I find Marie St. Clare strikingly similar to Edna Pontellier in terms of selfishness.  Both are societal women with husbands and children whom they don't appreciate because of their overwhelming self-concern. Although I didn't like Edna for her childish attraction to doing whatever she wanted to in order to better life for herself, I REALLY don't like Marie.  She is so arrogant and trapped in her own self-pity that she actually tries to steal attention from her dying daughter!  She too has an extroadinary childishness about her that requires her to compete for the title of "most pathetic," comparing herself to the slaves even, in terms of life's hardships.  Anyone who is so self-riteous as to assume a greater deal of pain in her comfortable and, at-least, bearable existence than that of a slave is completely out of touch with reality. These woe-is-me female characters are very disconcerting and Marie, especially, completely disgusts me.

Student F's return:  _________, I tend to agree with you on your comparison between the two women, and I know how much you despised Edna from listening to you speak in class.  I, however, happened to praise Edna but indeed realized her innate and selfish characteristics that undoubtedly eminated from within her.  I think your comparison was an interesting one and they seem to serve as a foil for one another.

My reflection:  H's serve could be a bit more social, perhaps, but I think it has nice potential for triggering conversation.  The passionate response and the startling "woe-is-me" labeling of certain women is bound to be provocative.  Unfortunately, H got only one return from her group, and not a good one at that.  I close with this interchange as an example of one that doesn't work, in contrast to some of the successful interchanges above.   F was consistently among the poorest discussers in the class.  She was a perennial "agree-er."  She rarely seemed to be able to move beyond the simplest, level 1, dead-end responses of only a few words.  What to say to her to help her improve?  In fact, there is the germ of something more than simple agreement here.  In F's second sentence there is unelaborated reference to either a disagreement or a re-thinking.   I wonder if F could be led to see that she is probably sitting on eminently conversational material.  (Of course, it occurs to me that the consistently lock-jaw'd quality of her posts might be the result of other reasons -- taking the course pass-fail or a learning disability, for example.)  Recalling H's in-class comments shows that F has not tuned out of discussion and gives hope that she could be a more productive member of the community.