Category Archives: Students Today

Idiot Winds

Yesterday for me was the last day of classes for the Fall Quarter 2006.

I have been teaching since 1976, so I have had a lot of last days of classes.  But I am still no good at “closure.”  Of all the idiot words running around I like “closure.”  But I am no good at it.

rippedMaybe I should bring cookies or bake a cake or barbeque for the last day of class like some of my colleagues do.  I think about it but never do.  So maybe I am no good at closure because I don’t care enough to want to do anything about it.

But I thought I had something that might make the last meeting a little less lame than usual. We sit there usually, and I ask questions about the last paper and ask them if they have questions about the last paper.  The students look all pale and worn out.  I suppose I could give them a quiz to perk them up.

But I had them write their last paper on “Fight Club” because the “theme” for these particular classes had been the consumer society.  I have very mixed feelings about “Fight Club.”  But it’s all I could think to use at the time.  I don’t know if it’s a complex film or with that twist at the end just takes an ironic distance towards itself and so undercuts itself entire.

But that’s another question.  We all had more or less decided on the basis of a few readings that the movie wasn’t just about the consumer society but had something to do also with being masculine or not in the modern world.  I apologized to the young women in the class for a movie so masculine in its emphasis but they didn’t seem to mind.  One even said it was her favorite movie.  She is real bright too but having a very hard time trying to be pre-med—all that biology and chemistry.

But I think, while I am reading the LA Times at breakfast, here’s something that might enliven the last session.  They have a column on another nut form of religion making the rounds.  As the article indicates fewer and fewer men seem to be attending church; the majority of church goers are women.  So the evangelical freaks to get more warm bodies in their pews have decided that modern Christianity is emasculating or de-balling, and are trying to lure more men by preaching a new “rugged” Christianity.

Christ was really a rabble rouseer, a guy who hung out with his homies doing drugs on the street corner and spent lots of time out in the desert living off the land like a real ape man.  Christ as Ripped.  Christ the body builder. And when he was up there on the cross, he really toughed it out.  I asked my students if one of them could photo shop for me an image of Christ on the Cross but really, really buffed up.

But I say this whole thing is about controlling women and quote one of the rules of one of these churches: Rule No. 1: "Learn to work the toilet seat. You’re a big girl. If it’s up, put it down."  But a couple of the young women say that women should learn to “work the tiolet seat.”

I can’t win for losing.  The class ended, as far as I was concerned, having achieved a total lack of closure.

Info and Knowledge

I would hope that if, dear reader, you happened to take my Crime and Punishishment quiz that you got 100%.  If I did not construct a quiz whose answers were self-evident, I failed in my efforts.  I don’t nichtmarthink that my literature Professor would have liked this quiz much because it makes mock of  the idea of the English Department as the warden of a specific discipline or knowledge base.  I mean if nobody really wants or needs the information of the knowledge base or the knowledge base is somehow made to appear transparent one is not a warden of much.

But I would say the word “knowledge” is thrown around these days a bit too indiscriminately; disciplinary knowledge is not a knowledge base but an information base.  Or more precisely if one can find no point to the information, aside from the fact that one might possible call it “interesting,” then it is not knowledge.  Knowledge–or at least preliminary baby steps towards it–is information with a point or meaning.  My quiz provided transparent information arranged in a way to suggest potentials for possible meanings.

That’s a terrible definition for what I think teaching and/or education to be: information with the potential for meaning.  One has, as a teacher, to somehow stimulate in the student the sense that this information is not dead and just lying there, as in having murdered to dissect, but might for the student possibly come to mean something and that in trying to figure that meaning a student might come to a knowledge (meaning, significance, importance plus information).  Professors, however, who say  their job is to teach the subject and not the students don’t see it that way.

People said that—back in the backlash to the sixties which set in by the late seventies.  I was a college student in the late 60’s and I must say personally that I had no idea which end was up about much of anything.  But students a bit older than I or perhaps just wiser began to question the way higher education was being done.  And many, many Professors, especially those who were authorities in their discipline, did not like the questions students were asking at all. 

I remember sitting in graduate school when a Professor said that–I teach the subject not students–and it stung then, and I still feel the sting of it because—and I know I am being presumptuous—anybody who says that and means it should not be allowed to mount the podium.  But I need to get off this topic rapidly.  It perturbs me.

I am too old to spend what is left of my time on this globe being perturbed.  I am all for the powers of positive repression and forgetting.  Still, I remember a very nice Professor, who was an expert on Conrad, visiting my class one time; she had a bit more to say about the class than the other Professor had.  She said, “You really should talk more.”  I interpreted this negatively of course, and said, yes, I knew the discussion had not gone well.  But again we (the writing teacher and the Professor) were talking at cross purposes.  I thought she meant I should have talked more to stir the pot for discussion, but, no, that was not it.  You have, she said, such smart things to say.  Why deny them what you know so well and express so clearly.

Damn—was I in a pickle.  

Nightmare

I do understand the emotions that might have driven writing teachers to want to lay claim to content.  The professors in the English Department, who rarely if ever taught composition, were nonetheless the bosses of those of us who did.  Before the writing program moved off, at least bureaucratically, on its own, my classes were visited, for the purposes of review and rehiring, for a number of years by English professors.

nightmareI remember having been visited by a Renaissance Scholar who made me pretty nervous.  He wasn’t a bad guy but I was pretty sure he was an elitist. He thought poetry was the highest form of literature and, how to say, the highest of all forms of experience.  I was, that quarter, teaching the second course in the sequence, the one that featured, in the closing weeks of the quarter, a novel.  I did Crime and Punishment for old times sake and as a tribute to my misspent youth (misspent reading Russian novels when I should have been out getting more well rounded).  I broke the students into groups to consider directed questions.  They kicked in and I felt the class had gone pretty well.

The professor, as he left, paused for a moment.  He was smiling so I figured I had done OK.  I guess I had, but he didn’t say anything about the class and the students or the quality of discussion.  Instead he expressed mild surprise at my not having called students’ attention in a particular passage to an allusion Dostoevsky had made to Pushkin.  Oh yea Eugene Onegan, I said since I figured he was really trying to see if I had caught the reference.  I had but I didn’t let on that I had never read the damn thing and had no intention of doing so.

And that was it, really, for comment or response to the class.  I had trouble not feeling his lack of response was a cover for a negative one.  But now I don’t think that was it.  I valued the way I had conducted the class, the way I had managed and elicited discussion, and he valued Crime and Punishment and my expert knowledge of it which I did have since I have always been an excellent reader.  He simply saw a different class than the one I thought I was teaching.

I wasn’t trying to impart to students some esoteric knowledge about Crime and Punishment or to use it as a way to teach students about symbolism or the early forms of the naturalistic novel or about C and P as a sociological treatise on the alienating effects of the movement of persons from rural to urban environments.  I didn’t want C and P to be about anything, but more a thing between myself and the students to be kicked this way and that and as offering a communicative scaffolding between the students and myself.  So that as we looked into the book and wrote about it we might also look a bit into each other.

I rather doubt the English Professor would have appreciated the quiz I liked to give on C and P.  We are going to have a quiz today, I would tell the students, and they would look downright shocked since I never quizzed them on anything.  Take out a pencil and a piece of paper, I would say, and then, Oh, forget it, we can do this orally:

Question 1:  what is the sex of Raskolnikov’s mother?

Question 2:  what is the sex of Raskolnikov’s sister?

Question 3: what is the sex of Sonya the prostitute?

Question 4:  what is the sex of the old lady that Raskolnikov kills with an ax?

Question 5:  what is the sex of the mare in the horrible nightmare of the horse beating?

Question 6: what is Raskolnikov’s sex?

Mounting the Podium

Or, as I was trying to say before I got distracted by the Volksburger, the writing course does not have content or a disciplinary knowledge upon which one need be expert to mount the podium, as it were.  At one time, back in the early 80’s, far, far away and many moons ago, the composition shakespearedeadsequence in which I worked did have content.  The first course was a writing course—mostly students wrote —and the second course featured the informal essay, short stories, and a novel of one’s choice, and finally, believe it or not, the last course in the sequence featured poetry, a Shakespeare play, and one by a modern.

As I said, that was many moons ago.  Back then the writing program was under the purview—curricularly and adminstratively—of the English Department.  One has to say I think that these literary texts were a kind of fixed curriculum.  The sequence wasn’t arranged around mastering different sorts of writing skills, but around making sure students got a taste of poetry, the novel, and some short stories.  One administrator, I remember, expressed some dismay when the writing program became the writing program and did away with the literature part.  Now, he said, it will be possible for a student to graduate the university without having read a single play by Shakespeare.

True enough, I guess, though not sufficient reason to teach him in a writing course.  I wasn’t sure however that the reasons my more compositionally inclined colleagues gave for not teaching him were all that good.  They seemed to be saying—and this seemed the only coherent reason they could give for not teaching Shakespeare—that the content of a writing course was most properly writing and not Shakespeare.  I think teaching Shakespeare and poetry made my compositionalist colleagues feel insecure because they felt Shakespeare was a content, or disciplinary knowledge upon which one need be expert to mount the podium and pontificate.

I didn’t understand this at all; for while, yes, I had at one time been an English Major, but I had taken only one—and it was poorly taught—class on Shakespeare in my entire college career, undergraduate and graduate, and did not feel myself an expert at all.  This didn’t bother me one whit because I did not teach Shakespeare as content.  I wasn’t concerned about saying something about his work that was inaccurate because I didn’t try to say anything about him except that which might give students the confidence to read him and then to write something upon him.  I did not, for example, talk about the “nature of tragedy.”  Heaven forbid.  Given the way I approached the teaching of Shakespeare I thought his works were just as good as many and perhaps better than some works as a stimulus and catalyst for student writing.

 I was troubled also by the other side of this equation.  For the argument against teaching Shakespeare appeared to pit one content—in this case—Shakespeare against some other “content” specific to and definitive of the writing classroom.  But as I have argued, the writing classroom has no content per se or qua content.  None.  That some in the “discipline” of writing think otherwise is quite disturbing at least from a theoretical perspective and in the light of sound reasoning.  In the “real” world of course one does what one has to do.  But this idea that the content of the writing class is writing has had and continues to have pernicious effects.  I hold this idea responsible for the many teachers, usually beginning ones and Teaching Assistants, that feel one has not done one’s duty as a writing instructor unless one has managed to reduce students to complete confusion by lecturing on and on about coming up with a “thesis statement.”

The Volksburger

I managed though to scotch the argument about burgers by bringing up my Volkswagen theory.  This is a general theory that I have applied on different occasions to express my concern with the proliferation of objects or items that all do the same thing. I used it for example to critique all fatkidthose different kinds of cameras I had begun to see or all those different kinds of watches.  So I applied it to the burger and said I didn’t understand why we didn’t have just One Burger.  What the hell was the difference?  A burger was a burger was a burger, wasn’t it.  Why not a sort of Volksburger for all the people?

Man, you would have thought I advocated killing the Pope or something.  No, they insisted; a Mac’s burger was not the same as a Jack’s burger, and neither of those were the same as a Carl’s Junior, and nothing matched Burger King burger.  They weren’t just amazed at my apparent stupidity but a little bit angry.  A Volksburger seemed to them down right Un-American.  Inside listening to them, I had one of my too frequent what am I doing here and who are these people moments.  For these young people, I felt, with a sinking heart, freedom was the freedom to pick, buy, and eat the burger of your choice.

This was some time in the early 90’s and looking back I can now see that I was already dealing with the influence of consumerism.  My Volksburger theory ran completely contrary to that proliferation of objects that constitutes choice in the consumer society.  While communism was not the bug-a-boo it had once been, I, as an advocate of the Volksburger, seemed to advocate a drab sort of society where everybody wore the same thing—usually something brown and sack like—and were all really automatons because they ate the same burger.  Unlike us–I mean Americans–who wear all sorts of different things and can choose freely among a vast array of possible burgers.

My concern with the development of the individual didn’t arise directly out of such episodes.  The idea had been with me long before that and is related to my own personal history.  Hell, the title of my dissertation was “Romantic Thought: Education and Alienation” (1980).  At that time, I had thought I would be a teacher of literature, but looking now at the title of my dissertation, I think I was unconsciously, and semi-consciously, concerned with the effects of education and its possible role in the development of the individual.  Maybe Hegel’s Bildugn.

Perhaps I am projecting, as is always possible, but episodes like this (multiply by a 100 or so) led me, rather despairingly, to feel that these young people actually believed that one’s individuality was somehow related to things that one purchased and sometimes ate.  I just didn’t think a person could buy individuality.  It didn’t come along with an enlarged bank account.  I thought and still do, vaguely I admit, that individuality was not a given.  One was not born it; it was not a right of the individual.  One became an individual—if that’s what one wanted to become—and becoming one was a lot of hard work.  The labor of the negative, as Hegel might have said.

In-N-Out

One might ask, I suppose, why a writing teacher reflects so much on education.  I think it’s the teacher part. And the writing part.  As a writing teacher, I don’t have content or a specialized knowledge to impart to students—like math or the history of England.  I do, of course, have contentin-n-out in my writing courses, but it’s not fixed or something either about which I am expert.  I keep changing the content or it keeps changing.  Next quarter, I will teach a class linked to Sociology and basic sociology will be the content of the course.

And in the basic freestanding courses I always have content too.  For example I have been teaching something called Writing for the Social Sciences.  I am no expert in the social sciences, but I offer a topic that I hope social science students can write about.  For about four, maybe five years, I used the topic of “Eating in America.”  Then I grew weary of reading about people getting fat, so I changed the topic to the Consumer Society.  Partly, though I changed, not just to get away from obesity, but because for our basic research writing course I had taught something on the American family.  That topic, along with the fat topic, led me to believe that I had fallen asleep somewhere around 1985.

My readings in fat and the family made me aware that some pretty amazing changes had been taking place in the USA since about 1980.  I had noticed them, I suppose, or been vaguely cognizant, but I hadn’t tried to study them directly or to make some sort of systematic sense out of them, so I switched to the consumer society.  That seemed to offer me, at least, a frame by which to digest or make sense of all the disparate info I was getting about markets, niche markets, cows and beef, brands, our experiential distance from what we eat, credit card debt, the growing income gap, health care and the death of the medical profession.

That last topic—the death of the medical profession–arouse out of teaching a writing course for students seeking to enter the medical professions.

I picked these topics for my own reasons and I have always tried to find a “content” that students might know something about and that might at least slightly pique their interest.  Who isn’t interested in food?  Thus Eating in America. I thought students might be interested because I knew that they ate, and once, a number of years before, an In-n-Out Burger franchise had moved into our area, and while, driving by it on the freeway, I noticed, on the day of its opening, a huge line of cars extending from the parking out of sight on down the street.

What’s up, I wondered, and asked my students, the next day, about In-n-Out, and a discussion erupted (is the right word) about burgers and which was the best burger and so on.  And vigorous debate centered on French Fries, some arguing that In-n-Out Fries were the worst, and others argued that they were really French fries and very fresh because you could see them making them on the spot.  One kid defended In-n-Out mightily, and admitted, when I expressed my consternation at anyone waiting that long in a car to get a burger, that he had made a special trip to In-n-Out because he wanted to be there at the opening, as if the opening of an In-n-Out was like the opening of the baseball season.  And when it came out that they had screwed up his order, you could tell he was really upset.  Like going to the first day of baseball season and having the game rained out.  He was really disappointed.

Consolation of Philosphy

This might appear confusing and I suppose it is.  On one hand, I appear to want to claim that education can assist in the development of the individual.  Certainly, at the heart of this mentogether2development would be shifts in one’s epistemology.  However, I appear also to want to claim that a person with a highly complex epistemology, like K and K’s graduate student, may not, by virtue of his or her education, have developed as an individual.

I have said this because I do believe that the university as an institution seeks to perpetuate itself and thus culls from the great mass of students those people who might best assist in its perpetuation.  Who are these people more exactly?  I would suggest they are people, a particular group of people, whose intellect, as a part of their particular psychological configuration, is more detached from the emotional realm than is the case with most people.

This does not make such people “smarter.”  Rather it means only that they are able to shift to the complex epistemology of the university more easily than might be the case with persons whose intellect remains relatively rooted in the emotional realm. Education, as I think of it, may not require of the former, given their detached intellects, development at deeper psychological levels.  Education, as I think of it, may require, however, of the latter, a developmental move, with its attendant destabilization and affective discharge, not because they are not as smart as the former, but because their intellect is not detached from but rooted in their emotional universe.

Educational institutions, such as the university, may feel they are doing their jobs, that indeed they are educating, because they appear to educate some relatively few persons into become “graduate students” and perhaps later themselves professors.  I am arguing however that the university, as currently constituted, does not “educate” these individuals but culls from the great group of students those whose relation to the intellect and its activities permits them, with relatively little psychological turmoil, to assume towards knowledge that position favored by the university.

I express this roughly.  But the psychoanalyst, D.W. Winnicott, has argued that some individuals at the earliest stages of development and in relation to a particular set of circumstances may develop a relation to the mind as an object.  The mind as object becomes detached from emotional or subjective realm, but at the same time serves those individuals for him it has become detached as a stabilizing and anchoring object.  Such people find the activity of the mind particularly satisfying and may turn to it not as a way of understanding or coming to grips with the conflicts of the emotional universe but as a way of stepping, however momentarily out of it.

Such people experience endlessly chewing over a particular intellectual puzzle not as an exercise as futility, but as enlivening and stabilizing. Such people may, in fact, find consolation in philosophy.  I have wondered about my own inclination, over the years, when enveloped in a certain kind of depression, to actually WANT to read Hegel, and to find, as I struggled with his tortured meanings, if not release, at least distraction, however fleeting and momentary, from the weight of my depression. Other people, under such circumstances, might bake a cake.

Birds of a Feather

K and K wish to link stages of epistemological development (or attitudes towards how one knows or doesn’t) to moral development.  In this light, the moral position of B might be superior to A.  I am,mentogether however, unwilling to accept a link between epistemological development and moral development.  Or to put this a little more clearly, I am unwilling or unable to say that because a person has been to graduate school that his or her moral judgment is superior to someone who hasn’t.

The conception of education that I am trying to elucidate, in any case, does not aim at the creation and/or production of graduate students but at the cultivation or development of individuals.  Going to graduate school does not of course not make one an individual; but surely going to graduate school does not guarantee either that one is an individual.  That academics might, of course, tend to privilege or to take as moral development epistemological development makes sense of course.  Universities seek, as do most institutions, to perpetuate themselves.

 Universities, like the Marines, are always looking for a few good mostly men and some women.  Professors, or epistemological workers, are consistently on the look out for people who show the potential for thinking like themselves.  Curried and favored these few individuals are encouraged to sign on with the university and once they have they are thrown into the boot camp of graduate school.  This is no more than to say that birds of a feather flock together.

The desire of educational institutions to perpetuate themselves has more to do with the creation of tribes (or flocks) than it has to do with the cultivation or development of the individual.  I have felt and continue to feel that the members of the university may at times be entirely too comfortable with “uncertainty.”  This may be a very valuable thing in the realm of “science” and knowledge production, but not a valuable thing in the realm of action.  Or more precisely, uncertainty in the realm of action tends to take one out of one’s comfort zone rather than put one in it in the realm of knowledge pursuit.

In the realm of action, as William James said, skepticism is not operational.  Beliefs sustain and guide persons in their actions, and they are “beliefs” and not knowledge because it is impossible to know if one’s actions will have the effects or the consequences that one intends.  For example, should I join the Army now, or live at home, work, and seek a degree at the local community college.  Or should I marry X who clearly loves me and whom I love or risk losing X while I pursue a career that may take me to another part of the country.  

Uncertainty in the realm of action can very easily produce the very unpleasant discomfort—far, far more uncomfortable than the uncertainty of skepticism—of intense anxiety.  As Sartre suggests, we may in such situations employ all sorts of rationalizations, excuses, and psychological maneuvers to conceal the anxiety that arises from choice.     

A and B

K and K (see previous entry) offer brief comments on the two interviews.  They write that for respondent A:

 
            …the problem itself is not a perplexing one; it is one for which a correct answer exists or will exist.  Finding the right facts will lead to certain knowledge.  Interpreting the facts is not mentioned as part of the process of arriving at a decision. (3)

 Of the second respondent (B), they write:

People who use this reasoning style acknowledge the uncertainty of knowing, but even though they accept the uncertainty they also argue that a judgment that is “reasonably certain” can be constructed on the basis of available data and existing methodologies

Tarrowsignhese seem remarks seem adequate summaries of the epistemologies implied in A and B.  But what, if anything, can the remarks of A and B tell us about their psychological development. 

Looked at in this way, I think it worth noting that A is involved in a contradiction.  First A says she cannot know because she did not make it (chemical additive) and later says that a final absolute answer is possible and will come forward.  This though may not be so much a logical contradiction as it is an expression of the individual’s embeddedness in time.  I, at present, do not know, but, in my opinion, in the future an answer will be forth coming.  Additionally, A’s attitude towards knowledge appears relatively passive.  Some one with the guts to examine all the data will produce the answer; but A will not be that person. Further, A appears to equate the knowing of a thing with the making of it.  I don’t know, she says, because I did not make it.  And, finally, A seems to feel that knowledge is the product of the efforts of individuals.

B is not however involved in even the appearance of a contradiction and shows no sense at all of being embedded in time or of knowledge being generated in time.  This may be the case because her response, as K and K suggests, rests on an acceptance of “uncertainty” which as part of the attitude of skepticism is perpetual.  Uncertainty has not and will not be resolved at any particular moment.  While, in other words, A approaches the question with the attitude that an absolute answer is possible, B approaches the problem with the attitude that no absolute answer is possible.

Further B does not believe that the person who knows a thing is the person who makes a thing.  Or, more precisely, B does not believe that the person(s) who make a thing necessarily know the effects of a thing (whether it is safe or useful or lives up to its claims).  And B knows that one cannot necessarily trust the claims (tobacco) of those that make the thing.  B’s attitude towards “knowledge” or “expert opinion” is much more active.  Indeed, one might say that for B “knowledge” is “expert opinion” as generated by certain assumptions and methodologies.

How does one get from A to B.?  Well, one might logically answer, by going to college and onto graduate school.  To which, I might answer quite logically, why yes of course, but that makes education simply a social or socializing process and doesn’t tell us anything about what an individual might have to go through emotionally to move from position A to position B.  Additionally, if one takes a social approach, as do K and K, one is unable to tell if B is able to apply the uncertainty principle to areas of life other than the epistemic (are chemical additives safe), or if, indeed, she should (do you drink beverages with NutraSweet).

The Right to Opinion

Well…to continue…a while along the path of “individualism.”

Individualism, as ideology, as symbolic of  standing on one’s own two legs, separates person from person just as the mobility of the child, when he or she begins to walk, makes possible the separation of child from mother.  Individualism separates by voiding one’s relationship to groups, dummyto the group of one’s ethnic heritage, to the group of one’s religion, to the group of one’s class, or to the group of one’s gender.  The individual is no one of these things, and before the law at least, the group memberships of the individual should make no difference to one’s judgment of the individual.

Most teachers of writing, I expect, have talked with a student who complains, because of something the teacher has said or written on a paper, “But I have a right to my own opinion, don’t I?”  Well, of course, one tries to say, but while one has a right to one’s opinion, there are different kinds of opinions.  One is looking, one says, for reasoned opinion, opinion backed up by some evidence and argument.  Of course, it’s hard to say this without implying that the opinion of the student is somehow inferior to one’s own.  This, of course, is what the student hears.  That his or her opinion is inferior, and that you the teacher are saying, in effect, I am the teacher and you are not.

I don’t think it would be better to say this—not if one wishes to educate—but I have wanted to say, “Look, you call this your own opinion, and you have a right to it because it is your own. But I don’t think your “own” opinion is your “own” opinion at all.  No, it is but the feeble echo of the opinion of several million other people who have the same opinion that you have.  In what sense is it your own if millions of others have it?  Did you buy it?  As one might a pair of jeans. 

No, an opinion is something a person has to earn.  And if I had any sense at all that you had earned it, I might not have spoken as I did. In fact, had I felt that you had earned your opinion, I might have responded to it conversationally, engaged you in dialogue about it, but when I feel the opinion has not been earned, I don’t think I am talking to an individual at all but a mob, with a single idea in its head.  And really one cannot engage a mob in meaningful dialogue.”

My reasons for not saying this to the student are multiple.  I guess I would rather imply that students’ reasoning is not so hot, than say outright they are not individuals, but sociologically speaking apes of others, strange somnambulists wondering around mumbling things that they have heard their minister or their father say.  Many of my students have been told that they are “special” from day one, and being told that they are by no means special, at least in the realm of opinion, could hurt their feelings.

Also I have found that students who baldly state their right to their opinion, with no caveats, qualifications, or other people might see something different since everything is relative, can be gutsy.  Perhaps, and who knows, they feel very strongly about this cliché that they consider their own opinion..  If so rather than insult such students, I think it better to try to check it out, and see what possibly, even if unexpressed, might give it force.  Of course, one could be dealing with a bonehead.