Why Teaching Research Writing Is More Important Than Ever

I’ve taught high school English for over 20 years. I am tasked with teaching young people how to formulate an opinion, test that opinion through fact-based research and then modify that opinion into a statement of fact using vetted and peer-reviewed evidence.

However, every year when I begin discussing the plan for writing said paper, I hear a collective groan from my students. This collective groan is because students are going to have to write something substantial, to think for themselves, to “think about what they think about” as one of my mentor teachers used to say, but the collective groan is troubling and is an indicator of what we are seeing currently on social media regarding the deadly coronavirus.

But you say: “Oh it’s not so dangerous. They are inflating the numbers. Big Pharma just wants us all vaccinated so that they can make money off of us and control us.” Of course, “Godwin’s Law” states that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1”. Currently in a video circulating the internet, Dr. Judy Mikovits, a researcher who was convicted of criminal activity in her lab (and who is a leading antivaxxer) accuses Dr. Anthony Fauci (who has these credits to his name) of being a deep state “Dr. Death” who is part of some Big Pharma conspiracy linked to Hillary Clinton and eugenics. In this time when we should probably listen to the experts in virology and infectious diseases we are somehow skeptical of their years of experience focusing on countering these deadly problems.

I believe we English teachers have done a good job of making people question their world but we have failed in helping students know how to accurately vet material they find on the internet for fact-based and peer reviewed truth. It seems to be human nature to be suspicious of the experts, but where does this fear and skepticism come from? The internet is a wonderful tool, but in the wrong hands it can become a blunt weapon that sews doubt, mistrust and outright tin-foil-hat-wearing nonsense. Both YouTube and Facebook have removed Dr. Mikovits’s video as well as the QAnon conspiracy theorists (because it is dangerous misinformation in a time of crisis), but those who shared the video now suspect (with zero evidence) that it was because Dr. Mikovits “dared” to share the “truth”. Not once do people dig in to her credentials or the fact that she believes (contrary to peer-reviewed science) that vaccines are not necessary and that they cause autism. (They don’t). The reason she was fired from her position as a medical researcher was because she stole from her lab.

“The Scientific American” produced an article about how to recognize a conspiracy theory in 2010 and it’s still the go-to for how to realize that your reasoning is probably off track. The point here, ultimately, is that all those groaning students who didn’t want to do the research paper, who did it because it was for a grade, and who may have just turned in a paper someone else wrote, are now posting of Facebook and Twitter about how Dr. Mikovits is right. If people who did their paper and really learned about good research are sharing this video, then they have forgotten what they learned.

In this most dangerous time, the worst thing that could happen is making huge, ill-informed, mistakes in managing a deadly virus. Just because an expert makes informed and researched comments that contradict a politician you happen to love doesn’t mean he’s part of some horrific conspiracy. It might mean that you are following a politician who, by his own omission, is “not a doctor” rather than listening to a doctor who has dealt with infectious diseases for decades and probably knows what he’s talking about. Of course, by writing this, there will be some out there who will call me partisan or whatever. I’m not. I’m just a humble teacher trying to get people to use facts when formulating their opinions. As the great Harlan Ellison said: “‘Well, I’m entitled to my opinion!’ No, schmuck, you are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. Everything else is just hot air and farts in the wind.”

Research, fact-based and peer-reviewed, is more important than ever when navigating this horrid plague. The rise in armed anti-quarantine protests, the hapless sharing of conspiracy videos as “the real truth” and the consideration of disbanding the federal task force fighting this disease (which was recanted yesterday, thank God) is proof that we desperately need to teach students how to research carefully.

I have my job cut out for me.

find the cost of your paper

Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.

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