A Notch Above Popular, A Notch Below Scholarly

Whenever I teach College Writing & Research, I explain to students the difference between scholarly and popular periodicals (magazines, or its online equivalents). However, that binary is not as clear-cut as it seems at first, because in reality, more students these days are coming into college classes with far less background in reading and familiarity with a variety of publications than 20, 30, or 50 years ago. Since the 1970's when more colleges became open access, more first generation college students started appearing in college classes. With the advent of so many online college opportunities, like SNHU or any other university's online programs, instructors cannot easily determine whether their students are widely read or, like the majority of high school graduates now, aliterate* and only keep up with the latest technology, hardly aware of the current issues of the day.

When students begin to write their first research paper (at least, for many it is their first), they can only see the college  library's search engine as a glorified version of Google. Already plenty familiar with Google, they tell themselves, "why bother with the more "complicated" version?" Even though scholars in library science and information retrieval are trying to capitalize on this familiarity with the ubiquitous search engine, the process of finding scholarly sources for a college research paper is more complex and multi-layered than having one point of entry.

When I used to take my students on a "library tour," I would often ask them to browse the "Current Periodicals" section, a common mainstay of most college libraries' first floors. Sometimes I would require them to find three periodicals that looked interesting to them and/or related to their major, list all three on a worksheet, then find one article within any of those three, read it, and summarize it, including the summary on the same worksheet, along with comments about what they learned, if anything. After we did this, most of the time the students remarked that it was an interesting and useful experience and said they weren't at all aware of all the magazines and journals out there. Of course, even though no library carries a complete inventory of ALL the magazines and journals "out there," this introduction to the breadth of possibilities was always eye-opening to and relatively painless for the students.

More often than not, students were drawn to a category I would call "substantive" magazines, a notch above "popular," a notch below "scholarly," the typical points on either end of a continuum that instructors explain in terms of intended audience. Sometimes "trade publications" were on the continuum, too, closer to scholarly than popular, or sometimes used as an interchangeable category. I would list Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report in the category of "popular" magazines, with the National Enquirer or Us Weekly on the far end,  the "sensational" category. (To quote an old friend of mine, "Time is for people who can't think; Look is for people who can't read.") But there's another category that is a step above "popular," that includes magazines that appeal to the "thinking person," with articles of such extended length that the aliterate normally shy away from tackling. It takes far too much of their valuable time. Sure, they CAN read it, but why bother?

If you haven't figured it out by now, I use the term "aliterate" very much in the same sense Kylene Beers does. She talks about the "illiterate" (those who don't know how to read or how to read well), "literate" (those who know how to read and often do), and "aliterate" (those who know how to read but choose not to, or at least, not if they can help it). Most high school graduates who don't go on to college tend to fall into the aliterate category, but many college students, even college graduates. could easily fit into that category now, too. People simply get out of the habit of reading and either don't want to read or feel they have no time for it, having grown accustomed to scanning user-friendly websites (read: "soundbite-sized information chunks"). Just like our we need to exercise our bodies, we need to exercise our brains a little bit more, too, or that ability to read more thoughtful and complex pieces will become harder just like our muscles atrophy.

So, if you'd like to rekindle your reading self, here's a list of print magazines that you'll find in any Barnes and Noble newstand section. Following that, I've assembled a list of online "magazines" and blogs that don't directly target people in a particular field as their audience, whose readership could easily be called the "thinking person."

Online Version of Print Magazines

Online Journals


Research Data

Reactions to Myth #1--Escape from the Ivory Tower

The Life of the Mind:

"We’re very sorry, but academia will likely always include the teaching, committee meetings, shared governance, fights about office space, funding problems, and advising that get between us and the Great Thoughts. . . .The flip of this is also misery-inducing: That everything beyond the boundaries of the Ivory Tower is an intellectual wasteland full of busy work and ethically suspect agendas. In this story no one reads, public intellectualism is dead, and everyone is simply putting in their time until retirement. "--from

Good points all! Don't I know that my daily grind consisted of committee meeting after committee meeting, concern about whether courses would "make" or someone wouldn't get the short summer course they needed to fund their family vacation to Disneyworld or something. I actually didn't mind the committee meetings all that much when they were chaired by people who got in, kept the politics and feelings out of the discussion, and got us out in time for our next class or office hours. One thing that always got me, though, was how petty some of the in-fighting was, and how insecure some of the "excellent scholars" were.  Got to see misogyny up close and personal more than a few times, but also saw how easily rumors were started and spread, many completely false, but some more true than the institution could ever admit. 

The students are what kept me feeling so young, though. I enjoyed my interaction with them so much. Despite the fact that I got older and older, while they all stayed approximately the same age, I liked how they taught me so much about what was cool to say now, what was not, even if I never picked it up. When my own son and stepchildren were college age, it was interesting to see their world from other students' eyes. 

But back to the "Life of the Mind:" I would like to think that I conveyed the possibility to them that EVERYWHERE in the work world, not just in college, the life of the mind is valued. One of my favorite theme-centered writing courses that I taught was the one on "public intellectuals." The most interesting phenomenon that I encountered was that, for about two thirds of the students, that phrase didn't completely register in the sense that I wanted it to. Instead, they would replace in their mind the idea of "someone to look up to," "today's heroes," or "inspiring adult role models." The idea of public intellectualism was lost on them. And yet, I learned a lot myself about some  pretty amazing people. I still have the research material for the knowledge and insights I gained and the web pages they made on each person and want to translate it all into a paper still someday.

ARTICLE #1 in progress: Public Intellectualism and First-Year Writing Courses.

Lady Gaga's Everywhere--you go girls!

Scanning the news/Salon articles this morning, I came across this video on YouTube where these flight attendants on a Phillipines airline decided to mix it up a little while showing those boring instructions. They DANCED THE INSTRUCTIONS TO A LADY GAGA SONG, "Just Dance!" How cool was that! As you noticed, Salon writer whose name I forget, the passengers paid attention and CLAPPED at the end of it. When was the last time THAT happened??

A Sad Day

It's a sad day. I cannot believe this Alfred E. Neuman of a guy is gonna be our president again for 4 more years. What is this country coming to? It is SO depressing! At least PA was not a guilty party. That's one consolation. I moaned and groaned about our fate for about 45 minutes today with Nick at the art store. Man, oh man. I can't stop shaking my head. What fools these mortals be!

It's been a while

It's been quite a while since I posted on here. I guess that's because October is always such a hectic month for school, with papers flooding in, presentations to give, deadlines to meet, etc. Plus, I've set up my students' blogs at http://writinghomeworkblog.typepad.com and have been keeping busy with that. Last week I gave a presentation to the Share NW school librarians biannual (does that mean it meets twice a year) meeting/conference about plagiarism, and I hope it went well. The person who asked me said it did, and it seemed to be received well, but what I said was, well, rather controversial, I guess. Then 2 weeks ago, I had to go to Georgia for a similar presentation, and this week I need to edit my book further! Whew! Plus, I need to write this letter/form for Finx's scholarship applicants, plan my texts for spring, grade papers (ALWAYS), get my promo packet together (if I am actually going to bite the bullet and apply, still not sure but only have a few more days to decide), organize student evaluations, ......and man, I'm gettin' tired just thinking of all I need to get to.

Meanwhile, I sure hope they don't end up electing that dumbbell Bush again. But that's a whole other can of worms.

I think I'm going to skip the March conference this year in San Francisco. Conferences are getting me more tired now than they used to, plus, I don't think I can afford it. It'll be a relief not to get behind in school work if I don't go.

Oh well, I'll sign off and drive home. Gotta pick up another book on tape. Wish I could blog while driving.....I guess I could if I took time to tinker with my phone, train it....oh, I'd rather listen to a mystery instead anyway.