Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading
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Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading
An Educator's Reading List of Contemporary Literature, Literacy, and Reading Issues. Visit us at
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Take A Look At The Most Epic Map Blunders Throughout The Ages

Take A Look At The Most Epic Map Blunders Throughout The Ages | Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading |

"An atlas of the world not as it ever existed, but as it was thought to be."

GoogleLitTrips Reading List's insight:
11 November 2016

I love having very mixed feelings about an article I anticipate either liking or disliking. I anticipated liking this article and found much to like. However, I also found myself wondering whether there was a negative bias that bumped against my own biases leaning in different directions.

The author leans towards an understandable assumption that inaccuracy is proof of blunder or lying or mythology as a sort of triumvirate of foolish or vicious falsehood.

In an ironic twist I am attracted to the video's conclusion that, "There's always more to the story."

I probably read that conclusion quite differently from the author's intention. I believe that at the Venn crossover of fact and fiction that fiction often adds an element of a greater Truth than fact alone. Not believing so would leave me thinking that his logic would dismiss the value of not only mythology, but all fiction because by definition fiction is not true.

When the author says, “Maps have an unquestionable authority, ... We’ve always thought of them as infallible, and so it’s startling and intriguing to see how wrongly they’ve sometimes shown the world to be.”

I can not read this without hearing a contemporary self-righteous condemnation of how incredibly foolish people USED TO BE when they believed "wrongly" what they were inaccurately "shown the world to be." 

Perhaps my own bias is affected by this week's headlines where there is quite disturbing evidence regarding the extent to which people today STILL  "believe wrongly" what they have been inaccurately "shown the world to be."

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The Crack-Up Book

The Crack-Up Book | Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading |
I tell my students, if you want to learn about depression, don't read the DSM. Read The Crack-Up. If you want to understand grief, read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.
GoogleLitTrips Reading List's insight:

This is one of those, "Wait for it, wait for it, WOW!" stories. It's not really a long wait. Maybe a 3 minute read, or perhaps a 7 minute "contemplative" read. 


The "Wait for it" element is that there are a few early paragraphs that seem to focus much more on the author's concerns regarding the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic Manuals (referred to as DSMs followed by a version number with the higher number referencing the most recent edition)


But you don't read my Scoop-it articles or commentary looking for some sort of analysis of the resources used in the psychiatric field. And, that's why, I suggest you not skim the first few paragraphs and then assume the focus is beyond your area of interest or concern. 


And, not being an expert in the examples of the author's concerns regarding  psychiatric diagnosis, I nearly decided to pass on this article myself. I really don't have an educated opinion about the position the author takes. But, the article's title and references to F. Scott Fitzgerald in the opening paragraphs kept me wondering about how the article would eventually draw some important connection between literary reading and "whatever it was" that the author was using the DSM discussion as a prefacing set for.


And, then... 

The wait was over. The author brings his discussion to the power of storytelling as a diagnostic tool. The DSM is a rubric. And, as a rubric it is a tool that filters one's attention in pursuit of psychiatric evaluation.


I used rubrics extensively. When done well, rubrics can provide a level of objectivity that limits the influence of subconscious biases, obsoleting practices, and arbitrary valuation assigned to various elements and other "elephants  in the curriculum" selected to be measured.


Though between you and me, it was my opinion that too many rubrics I found being passed around were not entirely, but frequently close to being entirely useless. 


Perhaps, I'm being too harsh. But, in an attempt to set a norm, many  "home made" rubrics did little more than transfer those "subconscious biases, obsoleting practices, and arbitrary valuation assigned to various elements and other "elephants  in the curriculum" to a scientific-looking grid giving little more than the appearance of objectivity.


I don't doubt that the attempt of the vast majority of creators of the poorly designed rubrics were well-intended. Nor do I doubt that the amateur attempts to design such rubrics, actually did have the potential for more accurate assessment. But, my concern was that when poorly designed or poorly used, the benefits as well as the detriments of assuming that the evaluation is somehow free of subjectivity must be considered before choosing sides on whether or not the "English department should get together and create their own rubrics that will be adopted by the department to ensure consistent and objective student evaluation."


It's only one example, but I can't help but remember the rubric used by one of my son's teachers for an assignment that my son had made multiple mechanics, usage, and grammar errors on. Of course, all of this did not come to my attention until the assignment had been graded and my son had received a (probably) deserved "F." Not just an "F"  but a 37% on. And any teacher who has seriously considered the impact of the difference between a  50% "F" and a 37% "F" knows that although both represent an assessment that a student has not demonstrated skill mastery, the the mathematical impact of averaging a 37% "F" into a grade calculation can create a near irrecoverable possibility.


The flaw that caused the paper to receive an "F" was real. The criterion that cost him to lose points was valid. The value calculation of that criterion was questionable. The teacher was quite within reason to include the criterion that contractions were unacceptable in formal research papers. It was therefore not unreasonable that if a student used contractions points would be lost. However, the system the teacher used was to subtract 5 points for every time a student used a contraction. This is not an unusual approach to calculating the impact of such a demonstration of inadequate skill mastery. But, it is not defensible. Without quibbling over whether this criterion was a measure of the student's mastery of formal writing expectations or a measure of the student's mastery of proofreading (two quite different goals), the student who includes perhaps four contractions will lose 20 points while the student who includes perhaps six contractions will lose 30 points. Both have made it clear that they have not mastered the skill or met the expectations. But the first student by making the mistake four times has doomed his grade to being no higher than a C+ while the second student by demonstrating the exact same lack of mastery or skill has doomed his grade to being no more than a D+ (or an F in the case of schools or teachers who have eliminated the D grade entirely). And, on the assumption that there might be additional errors to be caught or on the assumption that the overwhelming majority of the rest of the assignment demonstrated proficiency regarding several other measured criteria, either the kid is doomed to failure or the skills for which he or she has demonstrated adequate skills  are trumped by the impact of what might be considered to be a lack of mastery of a rather minor criterion when compared to the more complex skills measured in other criteria.


It's easy. You tell me... If we lock ourselves into a grading system where we believe we have built in objectivity and yet we also have a very common influence such as not accepting late papers. Then compare the final assessment of the following four students' mastery of essay writing as they write four essays over the course of a semester for a teacher who believes in averaging grades:


Student A: #1= 77%; #2= 80%; #3= 80%; #4= 78%; #5= 80%

Student B: #1= 59%; #2= 69%; #3= 79%; #4= 89%; #5= 99%

Student C: #1= 99%; #2= 89%; #3= 79%; #4= 69%; #5= 69%

Student D: #1= 98%; #2= 0%(late); #3=98%; #4= 99%; #5=100%


I'll save you the trouble of doing the averaging.


consistent performer doesn't get much better or worse.

Final Grade 79% C+



Struggles but diligent clear steady improvement: clearly leaves class with superb essay skills

Final Grade 79% C+ 



apparently could write an essay on day one, but effort seems to slack over the course. We don't know if this student cheated on the first essay  or had some home life issues or "other interests" or just slacked off.

Final Grade 79% C+


Student D

Exceptional student. We don't know why the one essay was turned in late, but rules are rules.

Final Grade 79% C+


IF the rubric and the math were designed to add objectivity to the measurement of whether a student has achieved proficiency in essay writing. How accurately does the math reflect Student D's mastery of essay writing? Or, Student B's? or Student C's? 


Both mathematical averaging and standards-based rubrics provide a sense of desired objectivity to our efforts. And, they DO add elements of objectivity to our efforts. However, there are many variables in the design and implementation of math and rubrics that can introduce "significant margins of error." 


And finally back to the article...

I might not find the criticism of the DSM-based assessment structure to be as "unreliable" as author suggests. But, the author's concerns for the potential for actually narrowing assessment accuracy and thus actually potentially creating a significant margin of error are woth considering in light of how education attempts to relies upon data-driven assessment on the assumptions that the collection, sysnthesis, conclusions drawn, and planning based upon the data are free from variables that might override the intention to control variables.


And, ironically, his conclusion is that a better understanding of depression, in his particular example, is to listen to the unfiltered stories, to perhaps read fictional accounts if you really want to know the facts.


I studied several wars in high school history classes. We read historian's selected historical events and gave the facts. Even if I concede the possibility that an honest and well intended effort was made to do so without bias, as far as I was led to believe, it was more important to be able to pick the right answer as to what year the War of 1812 was fought than to know the story of human nature that led to that war. I don't know if it was just war or not. But, I knew the "right answer" to the test question. And knowing that did absolutely nothing to provide me with an understanding of how it was that the study of history was important so that we not repeat the mistakes of history."


It was Eric Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front" that helped me see the shortcomings of my history book's version WWI.


It was FICTION as was Randall Jarrell's poem,...


The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State, And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze. Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life, I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters. When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Because this poem did not claim to be unbiased, I did not read it as unbiased. It was one point of view. There were opposing points of view as was made quite clear in All Quiet on the Western Front and in just about every John Wayne War Movie. 


It was FICTION that added a facet to my understanding of war that led me to at least understand that there is more to the story than my history books were telling me. Did it make me one of those raving anti-war dope smoking unpatriotic liberals during the Vietnam War? 


No, but it did make me want to know the motives behind the Vietnam War, the invasion of Grenada, and pretty much any endeavor when brave young people are asked to put their lives in harm's way. 


It was fiction that helped me want to know more about war's costs and benefits and to hold myself MORE responsible for trying to be an informed responsible citizen. 


And, you what, I knew that John Steinbeck had exercised poetic license when he wrote The Grapes of Wrath. It was FICTION based upon historical events. It was not an entirely accurate documentation of the actual facts of the dust bowl migration. But, that wasn't Steinbeck's intent. His story was about the "rest of the story." The story of family, of generational differences, of the relationship between the haves and the have nots, of the prejudices against strangers and the less fortunate, of the exploitation of the many by a few. All of his example were fictitious, but they clarify some of the motives behind some of the facts that history presents. 


And of course, I must say that had I read ONLY fictional accounts of real events without having also read the historical facts of those events, I would also not be sufficiently informed to accept the obligations of being an informed responsible citizen.


 ~ ~

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