Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"Chopping Up" Pinoy Psychology: AXES Illustration Paragraphs

The above clip features psychology Professor Kevin Nadal (he also does stand-up - talk about renaissance man). I like how Nadal illustrates Filipino American psychological phenomena using humor. I use his text book Filipino American Psychology in a composition class I teach. Why? For one, the class is part of a Filipino American Learning Community, so the subject matter is right on time. Secondly, the book features rhetorical modes typically found in college textbooks. And one of the big lessons I hope to teach is how to recognize and replicate those types of writing.

By "rhetorical modes", I mean the patterns of paragraph organization, i.e., the way writers build paragraphs to support a particular point. Pattern and structure implies putting particular elements in a certain place. Generally, an expository paper for college includes a topic sentence that states the writer's point, followed support, and ending with a conclusion. We use the acronym AXES to name those elements:
A: Assertion, the topic sentence
X: eXample, the concrete evidence
E: Explanation, where the writer
S: Significance, the "so what" of the paragraph.
Below are two paragraphs from Nadal's book to demonstrate one of those patterns: illustration, the rhetorical mode that makes a point by using examples, also known as exemplification.  These paragraphs also exemplify the AXES model. I marked where each element begins.
          (Assertion) In the United States, race is often viewed as a Black and White issue,with members of general American society tending to concentrate on the historical and contemporary racial conflicts between African Americans and White Americans. (1st eXample and Explanation)This phenomenon can be exemplified by the recent election of President Barack Obama in 2008, in which the mainstream media concentrated primarily on the voting patterns of Black and Whites without much regard to the opinions or voting practices of Latinos, Asian Americans, or other racial/ethnic groups.(2nd eXample and Explanation) This is also demonstrated in many interpersonal dialogues on race (e.g., in academia, legal systems, and work places) that ten to focus on racial relations between Blacks and Whites without examining experience of race for Latino Americans, Asian American, or other racial /ethnic groups. (Significance) Because of this emphasis on Black versus White in American society, the existence of these other racial/ethnic groups is often minimized, forgotten, or made invisible. (2)
Nadal asserts that American society tends to focus on Black and White racial issues. He supports his opinion with two examples that include explanations to verify his assertion. Nadal ends with a statement of significance, the "so what?" of his assertion: the preoccupation with Black/White issues tends to erase Filipinos.

Nadal repeats the pattern of organization in this second paragraph (starting with an Assertion, continuing with three supporting eXamples and Explanation, and concluding with a statement of Significance): 
      (Assertion)Unlike any other Asian American group, Filipino and Filipino Americans have been placed into several racial and ethnic categories. (1st eXample and Explanation)  According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Filipino Americans currently are classified as “Asian American.” However, according to the U.S. Department of Education, Filipino Americans have been categorized as “Pacific Islanders, while some academics have classified Filipino Americans as “Hispanic” due to the Spanish colonization of the Philippines for 350 years. (2nd eXample and Explanation)Moreover, California Senate Bill 183, which was passed in 1988, has required that all California  state personnel surveys or statistical tabulations classify persons of Filipino ancestry as “Filipino” rather than Asian, Pacific Islander or Hispanic. (3rd eXample and Explanation)Finally, because Filipino Americans may have a different phenotype, they often are mistaken as belonging to different racial/ethnic groups, including Latino, Pacific Islander, and Arab Americans. (Significance) These experiences (which my be positive, negative or neutral) may also impact the ways Filipinos self-identify. (18) 
Nadal's assertion that Filipinos in America "have been placed into several racial and ethnic categories" finds support in three examples: 1) National categories are different; 2) State categories are different; and 3) Individual Filipino/as are subject to misidentification. The larger significance of this claim is that this confusion in labeling may affect how Filipino/as view themselves.

Both paragraphs feature different content, yet they each follow a similar structural pattern: AXES. Nadal generated different ideas supported by evidence. And he followed a particular form - a standard pattern. His explanations, and commentary to make clear how those examples support his assertion.

Once my eye became alert to AXES, I noticed how many paragraphs are organized this way: big idea up front followed by support. I became more effective reader. Recognizing this pattern helps me scan paragraphs in a college textbook or work documents to find the major points, especially if I'm short on time or simply want to cut to the chase. I can more closely examine the rest of the paragraphs when I have more time or if I need evidence, clarification, or further explanation (as in, "how do we know this idea is accurate, relevant, or significant?). Knowing the main idea (the Assertion) helps me figure out the relevance of the support, too. Seeing the pattern puts the eXamples and Explanation in context.  

Seeing how writers use AXES also gives me an idea how to format my own paragraphs. I think of AXES as a structure or container to hold my ideas - the content. Each letter of the acronym is a placeholder for particular kinds of content. And the more I read and notice AXES paragraphs, the more aware I become of the variety of different ways writers use and sequence (chop up?) the moves within paragraphs. 

Sometimes there is so much evidence that the I choose to split a single large point with several complex examples into two or three paragraphs. I can use  S of the first paragraphs as transitions and reserve the final S for the significance of the whole set of paragraphs. 

As I writer, I'm free to emulate ("bite") different writers' structures and patterns of organization - that's not considered plagiarism or copying.  I just have to be sure that the content I include (the ideas, the particular examples) are my own. Here's a helpful page from Thurgood Marshall College at UCSD that provides more information on AXES paragraphs.

Reference: Nadal, Kevin. Filipino American Psychology: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice. Wiley, 2011.