“Pedagogy of Delinquency”

From my friend Clarissa:

There are several foundational principles to the pedagogy of delinquency.

  1. Respect.

These are kids who value respect like nothing else in the world because it’s so rare in their world. Respect yourself, respect them, and accept nothing but respect towards yourself. There can be no comments on their attire, no requests to remove sunglasses, hoodies, head-wear, jewelry, headphones, etc. No comments on tats or piercings. Don’t try to impose authority until you have earned it. Don’t raise your voice even if you are at MOMA with them and they are swinging on the chandeliers (true story). Be serious, professional, do not condescend. Don’t show emotion because these are kids from emotionally chaotic environments who see exhibitions of strong emotion (whether negative or positive) as threatening. Inform yourself about their culture before beginning to teach. There are certain words and phrases, certain gestures, etc that are out of the question. Speak at a lower volume than you usually would but don’t mumble.

2. Teaching persona.

The best way to go, especially if you are not very experienced, is the most buttoned-up persona you can muster. If you have a naturally giggly, smiley, bubbly persona, can it. This is not a crowd that is well-disposed to respect a class clown. No degree of familiarity is OK. Forget that you have a first name. In a Latino classroom, use usted. In the English-speaking classroom, it’s Mr and Ms. …If you are a middle-aged college professor with a bunch of degrees from fancy schools, don’t pretend to be somebody else. Be who you are. These kids can see through a fake in a second because it’s their survival skill. …

3. The past does not exist.

Nobody’s past gets discussed or mentioned or alluded to in the classroom. …

4. Trust and responsibility.

Since the past doesn’t exist, everybody in the classroom is an upstanding individual with a stellar reputation. …

I honestly never smiled less in my entire life than in that classroom. And I taught exactly like I would a group of graduate students at an Ivy League school.

Designing for Accessibility

Karwai Pun’s posters on ‘designing for accessibility’ are very insightful and helpful.

Writes Pun:

We’ve shared these posters across [the UK] government for feedback and they can be found on GitHub.

We are constantly improving and adding to them so please let us know what you think. Understanding accessibility through design means we can build better services for everyone, whatever their access need[s].

Update: We’ve been asked whether these posters can be reproduced or translated into other languages. In keeping with the the GDS ethos of making things open, we’ve used a Creative Commons license which allows everyone to share, use and build upon the posters provided they are used non-commercially and keep the appropriate attributions (Home Office, Home Office Digital and the Creative Commons logo). It would be great if people can share photos of them being used on Twitter and can commit translations of the posters to our GitHub repository so they’re available for everyone.

Writing in the Sciences

“The more that you take care with your writing, the more you might explore uncertainties in your thinking,” suggests Stanford University Environmental Earth System Science Professor Julie Kennedy in this excellent Writing Matters video. Kennedy helpfully stresses the primacy of “owning” your topic before putting pen to paper. There’s no short cut.

Real Words

One of the best pure writers I have ever seen was a psychology student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University named Emily (she gave me permission to use her first name). She could amalgamate and compress numerous, complex source articles into a hyper-lucid page or two, which on top of that was mellifluous when read aloud. Just the memory still gives me goosebumps.

Once Emily complained to me that professors in her major often dinged her for submitting assignments that did not meet the page requirement. “I wish they understood how hard it is to be so brief.”

I thought of Emily the other day when I read scholar and blogger Bryan A. Garner’s post Law Prose Lesson #260: Acronyms and Initialisms, which I quote here in full:

Legal writers are addicted to defined terms, especially shorthand forms made of initials. (An acronym is sounded as a word [UNESCO], while an initialism is pronounced letter by letter [HMO].) Although abbreviations are highly convenient, it’s a false sense of convenience: they benefit the writer but burden the reader—unless they’re already extremely well known, and most aren’t.

This burdening of the reader skews the reader-writer relationship. The whole idea instead is to make the reader’s job easier, even if this means making the writer’s job more difficult.

A certain judicial opinion defines the following terms: EFP, FCM, HC, NYME, REDCO, ROI, and TOI. Before we know it, we read that an FCM represents REDCO before NYME, expecting an improved ROI, but that the FCM also has duties to TOI, under EFP-1, to certify that TOI owned enough HCs to cover its EFP obligations. To most readers, it’s all gibberish.

Instead, use real words. Make it succinct, but use real words. Otherwise, your readers will rebel by putting your prose down and never again returning to it—or if they do return to it, they’ll detest you.

Dear Reader, Try to make the above piece of prose more clear or more concise. I tried; couldn’t. Emily could probably give it a whirl, but I don’t know what she would come up with.

Readers of this blog know how much we esteem author Garner‘s work, the scope of which is wholly humbling:

Garner is editor in chief of Black’s Law Dictionary and the author of many leading works on legal style, including Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage, The Elements of Legal Style, The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style, The Winning Brief, Legal Writing in Plain English, and The Winning Oral Argument. His latest books are Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts and Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges—cowritten with Justice Antonin Scalia—and Better Business Writing, a work focused on the art of communicating in the business world, published by the Harvard Business Review.

His magnum opus is the 942-page Garner’s Modern American Usage, published by Oxford University Press. It is widely considered the preeminent authority on questions of English usage.

If you are already feeling lazy today, check out these links another time. Just a recommendation.

Keeping your online presence beaming

It is a truism that dormant websites and social media platforms can do more harm to you than good, no matter how active you have been in the past. I teach my students numerous methods to keep their online presence bubbling even when they are busy with other things – the holiday season, finals – or when they are ill. I have certainly used these methods myself, in both situations, to keep my many platforms up to date.

For websites and blogs:
– Feel free to recycle past posts that have a timeless quality to them – maxims, insights, humour. (I make sure that such posts are at least three or four years old. I also make it clear that these are re-posts.)
– Point your readers to good writing posted by others whom you bookmark or follow via your news-feed (see below). There is nothing wrong with a post that is composed mostly of another writer’s thoughts. Give credit where credit is due, and Bob’s your uncle.
– Create and use an extensive photo library. A photograph with a short description will indicate that you are still “on the case.” And people like pictures.

For Twitter:
– No matter how busy or under the weather you are, you can usually get out of bed and review your news-feeds (see my own Feedly feeds); this can take as little as twenty minutes.
– Then: Tweet the posts and articles that will appeal to those who follow you.
– To make sure that you don’t spam your readers, spread out your tweets. There are numerous tweet-schedulers. I use Hootsuite and Buffer. With these I can be tweeting all day with just a few minutes’ effort in the morning.

For LinkedIn:
– Many, if not all, of your blog posts will be of interest to your LinkedIn “connections.” Post these in your LinkedIn updates. There is nothing wrong in repurposing your work this way.
– Once or twice a week, head over to your LinkedIn account and see what your connections are doing. Comment on or “like” their updates. Show that you are still attending to the work and insights of your online friends and colleagues.

So there you go: easy peasy lemon squeezy. Keep your online presence active and your ‘brand’ beaming. Have a wonderful holiday!

Writing and editing for the computer screen

Lawyer and language genius Bryan Garner over at LawProse.org spells out, in typically lucid fashion, how to compose documents when you know they will be read on a computer screen rather than on paper.

1.Summarize. It’s important to learn the art of summarizing concretely. Avoid airy generalizations and instead make pithy, practical, vivid summaries. These should always appear at the fore. (By the way, a LawProse survey has demonstrated that 87% of headings that say “Executive Summary” are highly misleading: what follows is a true summary only 13% of the time.)
2.Give bearings. The architecture of your writing must be overt: you must use highly informative headings, preferably full sentences that amount to succinct propositions.
3.Cut the clutter. Clutter is more anathema than ever. With on-screen reading, it’s even easier to flick over pages with just a scan. Readers can skim page after page with just a swipe of the finger. So anything extraneous must be eliminated altogether or radically subordinated. Anything that sets the reader to skimming or skipping must go.
And as for editing:
You must always edit any serious document by hand, after printing it out. Sending an important document without that step is a serious mistake.
This is from Garner’s “LawProse Lesson #237.” The preceding 236 lessons are all worth perusing if you write or edit in a professional environment.

“Bucks for Clicks” journalism

I like Virginia Postrel‘s take on the recent controversy over at Forbes.com. A popular author, Bill Frezza, published a controversial column on that website – advising university fraternities to beware of female students who show up at their parties drunk – and was fired. Comments Postrel:

What has drawn little comment is the business model that produced a journalistic fiasco. Forbes.com (not to be confused with the print magazine) is a publication that acts like a platform. It hires columnists, gives them a general turf, tells them to write and post pieces, and pays them by how much traffic they attract. Unlike a traditional publication, it doesn’t spend money on having editors review the topics or articles beforehand.

In the traditional model, Frezza’s article either would have had the backing of the publication–which would have stood up for it–or it would have never seen the light of day. If the argument seemed beyond the pale, an editor would have said, “No thanks. What else do you have?” There would have been no public blowup and no firing. One way or another Forbes.com would have taken responsibility. (As anyone who reads Forbes.com knows, its lack of editorial oversight extends to basics of proofreading.) Forbes.com’s business model has been successful in a tough environment, but it presents editorial perils.

Under the new model, columnists have to guess what readers will find interesting and they also have to guess what editors will find a firing offense. They are expected to internalize vaguely defined standards and self-censor accordingly.

Other, very bad problems with this model: (1) Authors are financially punished for writing stories that take a long time to report or that are important-but-boring; (2) livid, invidious opinion is likely to generate more “clicks” than researched journalism; (3) writers must now aim to please rather than to inform their readers.

Back in the day, Sports sections, for example, subsidized important-but-boring stories about school-board meetings and treaty negotiations among Asian nations. No more, alas.

Reposted from basil.CA

You talk just fine?

When teaching oral communications to my students, I don’t feel comfortable critiquing those who speak in “uptalk,” that habit of ending sentences with a rising inflection so that declarative sentences sometimes seem to sound like questions. To me that would be like asking people to change their maritime or southern accents: snobby and obnoxious.

At any rate, the folk at Language Log are on the case. It turns out that research has shown “uptalkers” up their talk earlier and higher in sentences when they are asking questions than when they are making statements.

That is, a good listener should be able to de-code uptalkers’ tones successfully.