Up@dawn 2.0

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Struggling authors

A student writes that she's struggling to find her group's summary. But apparently her group's authors are the strugglers, or stragglers. There are still 10 open invitations. At this point there should not be ANY. If you agreed to be an author, open your invitation please!

Once you do that, you should see "New Post" at the top right of this page. Click on that.

If you are an alternate author, and the designated author in your group has not yet posted a summary of the group's discussion within a couple of hours of class's end, just do it yourself.

If you ever can't find your group's summary, just reply to another group's post (just be sure to identify yourself by group #).

If you still don't understand what you should be posting, read the latest "NEXT" announcement in the right margin. Then, if you STILL don't understand, come see me.

And let me know if you'd like to be an author too. The more the better.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Honors Section: Philosopher's Guild

When we split into groups, our first initiative was to discuss group names. Unfortunately, I cannot give a blow-by-blow since I have already forgotten names. Grump.

Eventually, the conversation was steered to philosophers and what is philosophy. While we didn't come up with a philosopher or definition of philosophy and only two members could think of a philosopher (Myself  NOT included),

Eventually, we doled out book responsibility. I will post discussion questions when I am sure what book we're reading. Help me out here, group.

Honors Class; The Highlanders

When we split up into groups and the question of "What is philosophy?" was asked my group was sucked into the topic of the government, welfare, taxes, and free corporations. I was confused and I asked how all of that related to philosophy and one girl stated that, that is what philosophy is, what we believe what we agree on and disagree on, orrrr something along those lines. We mentioned Plato maybe once when we were asked who our favorite philosopher was, but that was irrelevant to our EBT  card abuse. oh, and I didn't know the groups were numbered, and the name that was suggested to be our group name was THE HIGHLANDERS.

Honors section, group 3.

In our group, we decided it would be best to re-introduce ourselves in order to put names to faces. I don't believe we answered the question about our personal philosophy, and only Seneca and Mitchell could name their favorite philosopher: G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, respectively. Mr. Oliver came over to chat with us for a bit about being the Devil's Advocate and seeing arguments other than your own. He also gave a brief summary of William James' philosophy: pragmatism. Toward the end of class, Mitchell also asked "What then is knowledge?" in response to skeptic philosophers of the past. 

I'll post discussion questions and the like later. I just wanted to get this up for you guys ASAP. 

Section 16 - Group 1

This past class period, our group never really got a chance to discuss anything philosophical because of the lack of time and the mass confusion of this whole "baseball" score card... (Honestly, still confused about it...) Anyways, we were supposed to read the introduction from Philosophy Bites Back and answer the questions "What's your definition of philosophy? Do you have a favorite philosopher? Can you summarize your current, personal philosophy of life?"

On a personal note, I could answer these questions as my definition of philosophy is pretty basic and agreeable to the generic definition of philosophy which is "love of wisdom". When it comes to my favorite philosopher, currently I do not have one... And if I could summarize my current, personal philosophy of life, it would have to lean towards pacifism. I'm not a complete pacifist, but I do believe that conflict isn't needed in life, and I like a lot of things that pacifism stands for. (Again, this an extremely short summary of what I personally believe... I could explain it better in class next time!)

The rest of my group members are free to comment and answer these questions as well, since we never got a chance to discuss them in class!

Still looking for lost authors

Nine of you have successfully joined the ranks of CoPhi "authors"... but there are still eight open invitations. (See below*)

Thanks to "Tink" for posting a very nice (and nicely illustrated) Rule Book for us. (Scroll down to the next post, beneath this one.)

Here's a simple slogan that might begin to demystify things for those who remain confused: "Questions" forward, "Comments" backward, "Links" either way.

Here's a simple hypothetical example of what a typical summary/reply might look like:

AUTHOR'S SUMMARY: Today in #16/2 [eg], we discussed Plato's view that there exists a transcendent and supernatural world of Forms or Ideal Essences, and Aristotle's counter-claim that forms are in the world, in particular objects. There is no perfect Form for "Cat," he said, there are just lots of particular cats. Plato looked "up" and away from the world for its essence, Aristotle looked down and around. Our group was about evenly split between Platonists and Aristotelians.

HYPOTHETICAL REPLY: Factual Question for next time (my "position" is AP): What was the title of Lou Marinoff's first book? -Plato, Not Prozac. Discussion Question for next time: If you needed or wanted psychological therapy, would you consider seeing a philosophical counselor rather than someone trained in traditional psychotherapy? Why or why not? Comment: I think Plato was misled by language, and the fact that we can speak of "Cat" as though it were a reality. In fact, only particular things, animals, etc. are real. General, non-particular names are just an abstraction. (I've also posted a comment to #16/3's summary.) Link: I found a cool video about Plato here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryGPPc5Z5Ng

That's all. HOME RUN.

[And if you want to do just a little extra, find another link...]

I found Lou Marinoff's latest book here:

Clearer now?

 *You need to open your invitations, author-wannabes.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Section 16, Group 3 - Take Me Out To The Ball Game!

How To Hit A Home Run (CoPhi Edition)

You must follow all of these rules in order to have a perfect score of 4 every Monday and Wednesday. I hope that this post helps you better understand Mr. Oliver's baseball score sheet system. 

First Base

You will automatically advance to first base every time you attend class on Monday or Wednesday; moreover, attendance is vital.

Second Base

A. You will advance halfway to second base by posting a factual question. These questions are very important because they will be used as a study guide for upcoming exams.

B. To pass the halfway checkpoint, post a discussion question. These questions will be helpful during group discussions.

Third Base

A. You will advance halfway to third base when you post a comment on your group post.
B. To pass the halfway checkpoint, post a comment on a post from another group

Home Run!!!

Lastly,  all that you have to do to get to home base again is post a link to a video, picture, etc. dealing with anything philosophical that you find interesting or would like to share with your group or class as a whole. 

This is all that we talked about in class today. If you have any questions or concerns, comment below! Enjoy :-)

Xoxo - Tink 


Two of you from #17 have posted. Where are the rest of you, #17.1 & #16.1-3? In the future, authors, you need to have posted your summary before sundown on class day. Ideally, your post will go up no later than an hour or two after class. No more. These summaries don't have to be perfect, they just have to be. You can always go back and edit or extend them later. Meanwhile, your groupmates need a place to hang their questions, comment, & links.

If you're not sure how to post: just click on "New Post" at the top right of the main screen, after you've accepted your "invitation" to join the blog.

If you're having other technical problems, please reply to this with a description of the problem. We'll collaborate on a solution.

If you're not going to be able to commit to posting soon after class, please pass the author's baton.

Backup authors, step up to the plate. I said two, but let's have at least three authors from each group signed & ready to post. If two hours have passed since class and your group's author of the day has not posted yet, just do it.


Group Discussion, Section 17, Group 2

Today in class, our group became familiar with the scorecard participation system and introduced ourselves to each other. We decided on the various positions within the group and chose the group name, No Sox, to match the baseball theme. We also briefly discussed our favorite philosophers. Due to most of the group's unfamiliarity with the subject, only one person named theirs. Gretta chose Ivan Pavlov as her favorite.

First Group Discussion

Section 17, Group 3.

Hello, CoPhilosophers!

Today in Group 3 we discussed our various roles in the group, such as who would be the authors, who would be the floaters, and which text each person would focus on over the course of the class. After clearing up that bit of general housekeeping, we moved on to a more philosophy-centered discussion. We talked about our favorite philosophers, and some of the names that were brought up included Nietzsche, Machiavelli, and Aquinas. The discussion then moved on to what we thought philosophy truly was in its essence. We came to a consensus that philosophy was the pursuit of man to answer those big questions of life that have been left unanswered since the Dawn of Time such as: "What is the meaning of life?' and "What is our purpose in this life?" We also decided that these question have been so difficult to answer because the actually answers to these questions might be different for different people. We also talked about how philosophy could be seen as a science because you start out with an observation about the world, you make a hypothesis based on your observations, and then you test your hypothesis by discussing and implementing your theories. Based on this conclusion, we decided that philosophy must be based in some sort of logic, and that logic and philosophy go hand in hand. Seeing as that was pretty much everything we discussed today, feel free to comment away and share any thoughts or ideas of your own that you have about our discussion!

See you next Wednesday!

Saturday, August 24, 2013


There's been an unfortunate trend lately, I've noticed, of students showing up to class without their books. It's ok to order them from amazon or wherever, if you can get them by Labor Day. But if it's going to be much later than that, go ahead and get 'em here (at Phillips Bookstore, in the Student Union) while you can. It's your job, after all, to do the reading before class each day and then (it should go without saying) come to class and talk about it.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Summer reading

It's a little late in summer to be starting on summer reading, but it won't be getting any earlier either. We'll talk about it in CoPhi, so we'd better read it now (or, minimally, read about it).

This year's recommended summer read for incoming freshmen at MTSU is by an impressive young man who went from prison to poetry to the classroom. Most of us will skip that first step, or at least will skip literal incarceration. But ignorance, inattention, sloth, and countless other shortcomings make their own kinds of prison. We can all take inspiration from this story.

Here's an interesting interview with the author of A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in PrisonR. Dwayne Betts. He'll be our convocation speaker on the 25th. See you there.

On Saturday, December 7, 1996, a skinny sixteen-year-old named R. Dwayne Betts headed to the Springfield Mall, in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, with a friend. Betts had always been a bright, bookish kid—he was treasurer of the junior class—but in recent months he’d begun to drift, skipping classes to smoke weed with friends from the tough Suitland, Maryland, neighborhood where he grew up. That Saturday, Betts and his friend discovered a man asleep in his forest-green Grand Prix in the mall's parking lot. They carjacked him, holding him at gunpoint, and took off on a short-lived joyride. Within eighteen hours, Betts had been arrested and charged with six different felonies; within a year, he would be tried and sentenced as an adult. The judge who meted out Betts’s punishment—nine years in prison—told him, “I don’t have any illusions that the penitentiary is going to help you, but you can get something out of it if you want to.”
Betts has since proved the judge right—on both counts. In his memoir, “A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison,” Betts recalls prison as a place of ritualized humiliation, not rehabilitation. Yet his story is also one of redemption. Since his release in 2005, he has racked up a staggering list of accomplishments. It all began with a book club called YoungMenRead, which was featured in a front-page story in the Washington Post. The publicity garnered the attention of literary agents, and in 2007 Betts landed a book deal. He wrote “A Question of Freedom” while attending the University of Maryland on a full scholarship, and in May of 2009, he delivered the commencement address at his graduation. (The other speaker that day was Leon Panetta, the director of the C.I.A., an irony that Betts relishes.) His memoir was released in the fall, followed by a poetry collection, “Shahid Reads His Own Palm.” Betts now teaches poetry at the University of Maryland, and recently received a fellowship at the Open Society Institute, which he is using to write a non-fiction book about the social impact of incarceration. He also recently got married and became a father. Not bad for someone who just turned thirty.
I recently spoke to Betts about his time in prison and his writing. An edited version of our conversation appears below.
Did you know that books and writing would be so important to you in prison?
I was pretty pragmatic. I wanted to be an engineer before I got locked up. I knew I would do nine years and I didn’t want to come home with no talent. I thought being a writer was one thing you could do while you were in prison, one thing you could develop and take home with you. I just didn’t know I would be any good at it. From the very beginning, I was writing essays, reading books. I knew that that was the thing I was holding onto—I just had no idea how the world of writing and literature would open up to me.
97818822958141.jpgThere’s a scene when you’re in isolation (“in the hole”), and someone tosses you a book called “The Black Poets,” a collection edited by Dudley Randall. It was a pivotal moment for you.
At that point, I’d been in the hole for three or four months and I was reading three or four books a day, anything I could find, but I hadn’t read poetry, I hadn’t read Robert Hayden, Lucille Clifton, and all these poems that were in this book. It was the one thing that happened that I honestly think if it didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be a poet right now. It was sort of magical. I had been yelling out for books, and then somebody just threw me that one.
Did your enthusiasm for literature set you apart among the inmates?
I was pretty much a nerd, but I actually found that education was more democratic in prison. I met people whom I wouldn’t have expected to read a lot who did—everybody read. The weird thing is that I read a lot before I got locked up—Chinua Achebe, James Baldwin, anything I could get my hands on. But it was always in my room, or by myself on the train. In prison, nobody would ever question why you were reading.
Did you ever have trouble getting access to books? Were the prison libraries well-stocked?
I never really found lack of books to be a problem. The only place where that was an issue was at Red Onion [the remote supermax facility to which Betts was transferred for several months] because they didn’t have a library. Most places the libraries were pretty good, because they had the old books, the classics, Shakespeare. I also bought books from mail-order catalogs. You know, I think the final battleground for mail-order catalogs is prison.
Nora Roberts was popular with the inmates. Was that just because of the love scenes?
It wasn’t just about sex. People get seduced by the narrative, too. That’s why a lot of us read Nora Roberts, and why we read fantasy. The point is, we were in a situation where narratives and story were far more compelling than when we were free. It sounds like a stereotype, but I think a lot of us were locked in poverty and cycles of violence. Most of the black men around me had children, a lot of the young dudes who were my age had fathers who were in prison. When we were in the world, we were locked in a space where we didn’t believe other narratives existed. Coming to prison and reading books was a way for many of us to try on different narratives, even it was just momentary flights of fantasy.
You incorporate a lot of the prison slang into your writing.
I think as a poet it was really important for me. Some of the words are really cool, like “kite.” You can’t really get a better word for a letter than kite. Some of it is cruder, and really makes your stomach wrench. Every time you hear it, it’s a slap in the face, a reminder of where you are.
There’s also the technical jargon used in the legal system; you write about how alienating it was. 
The entire language about concurrent sentence, parole, probation, resentencing report. All of these words that have nothing to do with real life, I have no reason now to ever have a conversation about them, but they become something that defines you. I thought it was important because in some ways our world was controlled by language. That’s probably why I taught myself Spanish, too, because I wanted to commit myself to something that would give me a new way to see the world.
One of the most dramatic moments in “A Question of Freedom” is at your sentencing trial. You had a number of character witnesses who each said basically the same thing: you were a good kid who went astray because your father wasn’t around. You stood up in court and contradicted them. Why did you feel the need to do this?
If I said I did it because I didn’t have a father, I would, essentially, also be saying that I did it because my mother wasn’t good enough. But I did it because I was being a fool for a moment. My crime was a common occurrence in the neighborhood where I lived. It wasn’t like when they showed me on the news anyone said, “I can’t believe he did that.” It was more like, “Didn’t such-and-such do that, too?”. The weird thing is that throughout this whole process, there were a number of adults who suggested that I blame someone else, or say I was high. From police offices to counselors to lawyers, everybody understood that at sixteen, I couldn’t be totally responsible for what happened.
While in prison, you went by the name “Shahid,” which means “witness” in Arabic. What motivated the change?
I grew up my whole life not expecting to go to prison, thinking that was for the other guys. When I ended up in prison. I realized I had become the other guy, I had the opportunity to witness how men ruin themselves and say something about it. So every time people called me “Shahid,” it just reminded me that I was a writer, I was a witness. Now I’m Dwayne. My family just wasn’t going to call me “Shahid.”
Since your release in 2005, you’ve accomplished an extraordinary amount. Did you feel motivated to make up for lost time?
I think the main answer is that prison made me obsessive, and I never slept that much anyway. Maybe I had a chip on my shoulder, and I was driven to prove something to the world. I would take on more just because I felt like if I just did what everyone else does, it wasn’t good enough. I think it’s probably an unhealthy thing, but fortunately for me I didn’t drop the ball. I did most of these things pretty well.
As part of your Soros fellowship, you’re working on a non-fiction book about the effects of incarceration. Can you tell me about it?
There’s a poem by Yehuda Amichai called “The Diameter of a Bomb.” He talks about how even though a bomb is small, the impact of it reaches the whole world. That’s what I’m arguing about prisons. The center of the book is Glen McGinnis, who was executed when he was twenty-seven for a crime that he committed as a juvenile. He’s the center of the story, but there’s a group of people who got attached to him that I will follow.
Are there any non-fiction books you’re looking to as models? 
I’m looking at it as creative non-fiction. One person who does a good job of this is Michael Lewis. The movie of “The Blind Side” was terrible, but in the book he seamlessly wove all of this really interesting information about football into the story of Michael Orr. I also like “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. I was telling my students at the University of Maryland that one of the reasons they write mediocre poetry is because the people in their poems only get to be perfect. Usually people in real life aren’t perfect. Great poems and great books are willing to allow somebody to have flaws. The public’s understanding of crime is always based on facts that get parsed out to them for whatever reason. What I’m trying to do is figure out how to tell people that—that you can’t make decisions on crime and punishment based on partial facts.
You think there are always half-truths when it comes to our understanding of crime?
Yes, but more than that. What I’m getting at is why there are half-truths. Glen McGinnis’s mom turned him in, but she didn’t tell police that she poured hot oil on him, or that the man she was living with hit him upside the head with a bat. I’m not even saying that all of those thing should have changed his punishment, what I’m saying is that all of those things should complicate the way we look at justice. The New Yorker

“You’re going to college and part of you says you’ve already made it. But I wonder what part of you is willing to have a dream that makes absolutely no sense right now. Because those are the dreams that change the world...
“Tomorrow morning, the next chapter of your life truly begins. Your exploration for growth, for knowledge, for achievement, starts down a new an exciting path that will take you places you have only dreamt about … There will also be a lot of hard, roll- up-your-sleeves type work.” 
And a lot of good conversation and collaboration. Let's go create some dreams, four years can and should transform you!
NEXT YEAR. Now's the time for faculty, staff, and students to recommend next year's Freshnman Summer Read and Fall Convocation speaker. Send your suggestions to Laurie.Witherow@mtsu.edu.

Vanderbilt's freshman class read this, this past summer. I read it last year, & recommend it highly:

Monday, August 12, 2013


Our first homework assignment:

M 26/T27 - GETTING ACQUAINTED. Introduce yourself by replying online (before our 2d class meeting) to this post, and read classmates' introductions. Address these questions as personally and as philosophically as you like: Who are you? Why are you here? (in this class, at this school, in this state & nation, on this planet...)  Please include your section # (H, 16, or 17) with your first name.

(Bear in mind, this site is not filtered or segregated from the rest of the web... so, be as circumspect as you think you must. There's no reason to think Grandma or the Big Bad Wolf are lurking, but you never know.)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Advice to Graduates

And pre-graduates. And CoPhi students.
“Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended... George Saunders's Advice to Graduates - NYTimes.com
Also, as Kurt Vonnegut said: be kind.

Friday, August 2, 2013

John Lachs out of the box

John Lachs was a big hit in CoPhi, visiting two of our classes last April. He has an open invitation to come back whenever he wants.

Here he was in 2012, introduced by his Vandy colleague David Wood at the public library's 2d "Out of the Lunch Box" series. Lachs gets started at about the 7'30" mark, if you can't wait. But David Wood is a fine philosopher too, and it's a very nice introduction.