Wednesday, May 18, 2011

To Reflect on Another Year of Learning?

It's May! -- exams have been taken, final essays have been written, and grades have been turned in by students and faculty. It's time to think about what another year of learning has added to our brains, and about the people we'd like to thank for their contributions to our success.

First off, I'd like to thank my students and their families for choosing The College of New Jersey as their "learning destination" -- not to be confused with a vacation destination. We're proud of the education we offer, and we are pleased that you selected TCNJ.

Next, I would like to thank the residents of New Jersey for continuing to support public education for young (and not-so-young) New Jerseyans. Many many middle class families throughout the US would have never achieved economic stability without our American commitment to public education. I myself would not enjoy a nation in which only those families who could afford private schools were able to obtain degrees for their children.

Before we all get too caught up in summer, let's think about what this academic year has brought us.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

To Defend 'The Fountainhead'?

I first read The Fountainhead the summer before entering The College of New Jersey. At the time, my rejection from Princeton was still a fairly fresh wound. Little did I know, the novel was incredibly relevant to my situation and would set the tone for my college career.
Political implications aside, the chief message of the novel is the idea of responsibility to oneself. To me it's an uplifting message: You have a responsibility to achieve to your highest ability. This should be your guiding virtue. No one has any right to you or your work, except you. As the hero, Howard Roark, says, "I do not recognize anyone's right to a minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine." Do not depend on the greatness of others to define your own work because you have the capacity to create. In order to love and respect others, you need to be able to first respect yourself. This prerequisite of love, is described in the novel: " 'I love you' one must know first how to say the 'I'. "
Howard Roark refuses to remain tethered to the work of his predecessors, to cower in the shadows of what is defined as greatness and thereby admit automatic inferiority. He is determined to forge his own path. Now, as a graduating senior, I can't think of a more empowering sentiment, as my peers and I embark on what's next.

The Fountainhead has the potential to resonate with anyone with an individual dream who is willing to fight for it. It is my hope that my classmates and I follow Roark's example in our careers:

“But you see, I have, let’s say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I’ve chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards — and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.”

-Katie Brenzel

Todd Petty contributed to this blog post

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

To Argue With Their Sponsor About Literature?

So, here I am, Felicia Steele, earnest Sigma Tau Delta sponsor, proud bearer of my five year anniversary letter from the national organization, embroiled in a dispute about literary merit with my chapter's members. Each year our chapter has a marathon reading at the end of the spring semester, partially to celebrate the season, but mostly to come together around one text and the long-lost art of social reading. The origins of this custom are fuzzy--most people on campus credit a marathon reading of Homer's Odyssey that took place in 2003 or 2004, but I, of course, give myself credit for initiating the custom, since I insisted on reading Beowulf from "Hwaet" to "lofgeornost" (in Modern English, of course) in April of 2002, at the end of my first year at The College of New Jersey. Few remember the event, but I recall it fondly, especially since I believe it might get the prize for the shortest marathon reading ever. In the early days, marathon readings were very faculty-driven: my Beowulf, The Odyssey, Joyce's Ulysses in honor of the retirement of beloved professor Lee Harrod, Song of Myself in honor of the 150th anniversary of its publication (which fortuitously corresponded with our college's Sesquicentennial), Milton's Paradise Lost (coordinated by a senior seminar on the book).

But last year we decided to open the competition up to student preference. As a result, I had to face one of my demons: books I don't like. It started with Catcher in the Rye. I acknowledge Salinger's importance to our culture and recognize that it would have been appropriate to read his most famous and influential book right after his demise. But I really hate Holden Caulfield. I wanted us to read Chris Abani, since I was so impressed with the talk he gave at last year's convention. Nonetheless, I was happy to read the birthday party episode from The Lord of the Rings in my West Country accent. Yet this year...this year. We have reached a bridge too far my friends--what do I do now? The students have selected Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead as one of the three candidates in the penny wars they're conducting to choose the book (and to support the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen). Ayn Rand's ideological rant faces up against Sense and Sensibility and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I've been ranting and raving, scowling and snarling about this choice for over a month now, but I finally decided I needed to lay out my reasons against this book. The penny war is a contest, so I can be overruled, and I refuse to be the principal donor in the war, but I wanted my chapter members know why I object so viscerally to this novel, especially since I pride myself as a champion of academic freedom. And I invite my opponents to provide their reasons for the texts in question. Thus, patient reader, allow me to put Rand's The Fountainhead on trial.

My charges are thus: one count of bad prose, one count of bad economics, and one count of irredeemable misogyny. My evidence follows.

First, I'm working from Google books, so I do not have a page number for this Penguin edition. My apologies:

"Keating looked at the sketch. He had known for a long time that Howard Roark had been chosen to build the Enright House. He had seen a few mentions of Roark's name in the papers; not much, all of it to be summed up only as 'some young architect chosen by Mr. Enright for some reason, probably an interesting young architect.' The caption under the drawing announced that the construction of the project was to begin at once. Well, thought Keating, and dropped the paper, so what? The paper fell beside the black and scarlet book. He looked at both. He felt dimly as if Lois Cook were his defense against Howard Roark."

My evidence from this one paragraph suggests that Rand 1) overuses pronominal constructions making it difficult to follow the logic of her narration, 2) overuses past perfect constructions so that the text exists in a time vacuum, 3) lacks a narrative perspective. I consider all three of these traits to be sins of prose fiction and poison to an extended live reading.

Second charge: bad economics. Take this one quotation, admittedly with little context:

"He's only a common worker, she thought, a hired man doing a convict's labor."

The suggestion of a 20th century author that labor is something appropriate only for convicts is abhorrent to me--I cannot suffer to hear this kind of thing.

Third (and damning) charge: irredeemable misogyny. I somehow doubt that the students who have not yet read The Fountainhead know that it includes, as one of the actions of its nearly divine hero, the architect Roark, one of the most appalling rape fantasy scenes in all literature. I won't quote the rape itself, but from its aftermath--from what it does to the character of Dominique.

"She could accept, thought Dominique, and come to forget in time everything that had happened to her, save one memory: that she had found pleasure in the thing which had happened, that he had known it, and more: that he had known it before he came to her and that he would not have come but for that knowledge. She had not givene him the one answer that would have saved her: an answer of simple revulsion--she had found joy in her revulsion, in her terror and in his strength. That was the degradation she had wanted and she hated him for it."

Now, as many of my students know, I'm no shrinking violet, and have taught some graphic, quite horrifying literature in my classes. I think most fondly of Last Exit to Brooklyn, which one of my students thought was too scandalous for a woman to read while pregnant, as I was when I taught the book. I'm not queasy about violence. But I simply am horrified by the idea that my students will sit around a lounge, many of them in their last year of college, after having participated in presentation and event after presentation that says that "No means no," that "No woman deserves or asks to be raped," and have to listen to this indictment of female sexuality. I confer the matter to the jury, respectfully. May you vote with your spare change and pennies. --Felicia Steele

Monday, March 21, 2011

To Compete In A Scrabble Tournament?

Last Wednesday, word lovers joined in Bliss Hall Lounge for the first Sigma Tau Delta Scrabble Tournament at TCNJ. Sixteen players competed in the tournament, hoping to win prizes including TCNJ library-approved mugs, Sigma Tau Delta swag, and Amazon gift cards.

The tournament used a single-elimination bracket.

Eric and Frank battle it out in the first round.

Lou contemplates his next move while Becca prepares to put down a word.

Ten players anxiously await the end of the first round, hoping they will advance in the tournament and gain the fame and glory they so crave.

Emily watches as Jenna plays another made-up word.

The tournament was set up so that no matter when a player was eliminated, he/she would receive a prize. This element of the tournament was important to the two Sigma Tau Delta students who organizes the tournament, seniors Enrico Bruno and Todd Petty. They wanted to make sure that each player left the tournament with a prize, even if they were eliminated in the first round.

Eight players made it to the second round, four advanced to the semi-finals, and finally Frank and Alexa played in the final match.

Frank and Zach begin the game that will determine who will make it to the final match.

Alexa organizes her letters while Kristen eyes her tiles suspiciously.

Congratulations to Alexa for winning the tournament and taking home the grand prize of a $30 giftcard to

And thank you to all sixteen players who competed in the tournament!

Friday, March 11, 2011

To Read Dr. Seuss Books?

Thank you to everyone who came out and supported our Dr. Seuss Day on Wednesday, March 2nd. Below are some pictures from the event. Special thanks to our member Cynthia, who organized the event and brought ample Dr. Seuss books for us to select and read!

The wonderful selection of books we could read.

Some of our audience members.

We can't forget to mention the delicious cake!

Kim reading Daisy Head Maize.

Monday, February 28, 2011

To Celebrate Read Across America Day?

Remember having fun with these?

If you are reading a book for class, which seems to grow extra pages the longer you read it, you might realize it’s time for a break. But you’re still a book-loving English major (minor, etc) and you don’t quite want to move away from your books.

Let me introduce you to Dr. Seuss Day on March 2nd. Clearly, an event all fans of the printed word would be interested in. Who doesn’t remember those early years when fish were red or blue, one or two? Look fondly back on the days when green eggs and ham didn’t refer to a bad dinner pick from our Eickhoff dining hall.

Come join us from 1-3 in Bliss Lounge. Why? Because we’re fellow adults who still love hearing Dr. Seuss. And eating cake. Did I mention the Dr. Seuss themed cake that will be available for free? Well let me now: there will be a Dr. Seuss themed cake that will be available for free. At 1:30 and 2:30 we will have marathon readings. If you want to read, go stop by and sign up; if you don’t, then sit back and have a story read to you for once in way too long.
At the end, don’t forget to sign the guest list and get your certificate e-mailed to you!

Check out our Facebook event:

Hope to see you there! Wed March 2nd. Bliss Lounge. 1pm-3pm. Cake and other goodies from 1pm-3pm. Marathon Readings 1:30 and 2:30.


Friday, February 25, 2011

To Learn Teenage as a Second Language?

As English majors, we are all required to take at least one linguistics course, but even learning about code-switching and vernacular was unable to prepare me for what I stumbled upon while surfing the Internet...a new book entitled, Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual.

It wasn't long ago that I was part of the teenage generation that made words like whatever and fine into dangerous verbal daggers. Whenever I wielded one of these words my parents instinctively knew I meant business and adolescence was rearing its ugly head.

I remember getting my first e-mail address, along with most of my friends, in 1999 when I was in fourth grade. My friends and I quickly integrated computer slang into our own e-mails and instant messages, asking each other wu? and telling each other we'll brb or we've gtg. And who can forget being warned about instant messages from strangers requesting our A/S/L?

But computer language is one thing--verbal speech is another scenario entirely. Would you consider "teenage" to be a separate language? Any thoughts?