Looking to Re-Think How I Teach Composition, Part 2 – Specific Course Design

SPECIFIC COURSE DESIGN

The use of graphic novels in the classroom, particularly the English, Literature, and Writing classroom, is an ongoing and developing trend, particularly at the college/university level.

This is not without pushback, however, there is “good” or relevant pushback and there is just “poor” pushback.

A good, recent example of “poor” pushback emerged recently from Crafton Hills College in California. Apparently, and “According to the Redlands Daily Facts newspaper, Tara Shultz and her parents object to Persepolis, Fun Home, Y: The Last ManVol. 1, and The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House as “pornography” and “garbage” (Williams). What is odd about this is that there argument is not a strong one as tall. In fact, when one takes into account the professor of the classes response, this becomes a bit clearer. Bartlett responded to an email via the Redlands Daily Facts and provided his reasoning:

“I chose several highly acclaimed, award-winning graphic novels in my English 250 course not because they are purportedly racy but because each speaks to the struggles of the human condition. As Faulkner states, ‘The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.’ The same may be said about reading literature. The characters in the chosen graphic novels are all struggling with issues of morality, self discovery, heartbreak, etc. The course in question has also been supported by the faculty, administration and approved by the board.” (Williams)

When one considers Shultz’s response to Bartlett’s, it appears that something does not match up here. Williams article points out that Shultz’s side and reasoning, noting that she

…is working towards an Associate of Arts in English at the public community college, signed up for English 250: Fiction because it fulfills one part of her degree requirements. She was apparently aware that the specific focus of the class was graphic novels, but she told the newspaper that “I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography.” Shultz says that Associate Professor Ryan Bartlett, who has taught the course for three terms without any other complaints, failed to adequately warn students about the books’ content. Her father Greg Shultz said that “if they (had) put a disclaimer on this, we wouldn’t have taken the course.” Tara Shultz agreed, saying that Bartlett “should have stood up the first day of class and warned us.” (Williams)

However, this is not the whole story. Not only may some, including myself, find her statement “I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography” a profound display of ignorance, but apparently, her real aim was a “blow off” class. Consider this information to help clarify:

Of course, Shultz and her parents did have complete information about which books would be covered in the class–the school requires instructors (p. 20) to distribute a detailed syllabus on the first day of the term–and ample time to withdraw with no effect on her grade. Fourteen other courses offered at Crafton Hills fulfill the same degree requirement as English 250. The college’s online calendar shows that the Spring semester began on January 12, and the last date to drop a course with no grade penalty was January 30. Shultz apparently brought up her objections to four out of ten books covered in the class after that date, when her only options were to complete the assigned work or withdraw with a 0. (Williams)

So, what about this, what is the point? Well, the point is that Shultz demonstrated a poor ability to argue. If she wanted to convince me or anyone (truly) that those graphic novels in the course were “pornography” or “trash” she should have perhaps made a more informed, nuance, and critically thought out approach. So, I want my students to do something better. I want them to make better arguments. So, this is where I make my move.

I want to have my students approach this and make an argument for/against the inclusion of graphic novels in the classroom. Are they pornography or trash? Are they literature? I want to let them make a case and argue it in an “informed, nuance, and critically thought out” manner.

To this end I am attempting to build up a potential “reading” list of sorts to help guide students to a wide selection of graphic novels, with synopsis and disclaimers, to help them engage with the material with guidance.

My attempt is to implement this in a composition 2 classroom in order to facilitate real, critical and argumentative debate on the topic.

Works Cited

Williams, Maren. “College Student Wants Four Graphic Novels ‘Eradicated from the System.”

CBLDF.org. Comic Book League Defense Fund. 13 June 2015. Web. 30 June 2015.

Looking to Re-Think How I Teach Composition, Part 1 – Overview and Introduction

So, I recently decided that I needed to revamp my approach to teaching Comp 1 and 2. I have been on this trajectory for some time, working out some ideas, but now I think I have come across how I want to proceed. Part of this has been on my mind for a while, but after listening to the audiobook version of Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica, I really took some time to reflect upon my method and approach and asked myself the question: Could I do more? This question is something I really intend to try and answer with regards to how I teach Comp 2. In general though, I want to do more.

For one, I am working on for clearly communicating the material in the course, particularly via visual and auditory processes. Still, I wanted to try to more than even that.

So, to begin, perhaps it would be good to reflect on how I perceive and approach teaching Comp 1 and 2 as I teach now:

Composition 1:

For me this remains an introduction to college writing for students. Whether I am utilizing the Norton’s Field Guide or St. Martin’s Guide to Writing textbook, the approach is one that utilizes the “genre” approach to writing.

This entails me walking students through the writing process and MLA formatting through typically genres such as Literacy Narrative, Article Analysis, Reporting Information, and Arguing a Position (Norton’s approach, which I primarily use now).

Changes I want to make to Comp 1 instruction falls heavily on developing more resources, continued development of helping students see the process and connections, and implementation of visual diagrams and graphic narratives.

Composition 2:

This is where I lead students from the Arguing a Position paper of Composition 1 into an expanded version via a larger Research Paper.

It is here in Composition 2 that I am wanting to work on “redefining” my process and approach. I want to provide students with options here, to reach out to their strengths (and perhaps passions) and try to engage them on multiple levels.

To do this, I am in the process of attempting ONE specific course design that I really want to try out at least once, but the process of that course design will represent a traditional approach to a form that I want to develop as something as part of my overall Comp 2 redesign.

Let me start with the specific course design I want to try out (as part of a bit of social commentary) and then move on to the outcomes and standards I hope to utilize in a fresh (at least for me) re-imagining of my Comp 2 class approach.

I will address these in the following postings.

Revisiting and “Re-accentuating” Analysis Ch. 3

As I begin to work on Analysis Chapter 2 and look over the pieces that are coming together, I am coming to realize that the 64-page monstrosity of Analysis Ch. 3 will undergo some serious modifications.

 

First, much of theory I laid out in it will be modified, cut down, shifted.

 

Second, I decided to make some modifications and move the chapter about quite a bit.

 

To start, the way I structured the chapter initially consisted of an Introduction section to set up the chapter. This particular chapter was structured around investigating elements of re-accentuation within the Superman narrative. After this I sectioned the rest of the chapter, segmented it, by the sources: All-Star Superman, Superman Birthright, and Superman: Secret Origin.

 

Within each source section I followed a process of exploring three aspects and repeated this for each source in turn:

 

1. Touched upon the primary aspect of this analysis chapter, re-accentuation.

 

2. Examined the model/anti-model relationship in each, particularly connecting to arête and this is part of the overarching theory of the entire dissertation.

 

3. A grand expression of Superman’s essence, some part connected to elements of re-accentuation.

 

It made sense when working on it and it actually developed as I was working on drafting the chapter.

 

However, as I look back on it now, I wanted to move things around and try something new. All along I am working on Analysis Ch. 2 and deciding how this might be applied to this chapter as well to consider it a more overall consistent approach.

 

This approach involves, as the new “theoretical” approach to formatting the chapter, and I am working on this as a form of editorial revision.

 

In place of the previous, source driven segmentation, the new theoretical approach goes as follows, with some compression and changes:

 

Introduction

Summary

Model/Anti-Model

Re-Accentuation

 

Pulling together the material, keeping most everything but in need of editing and changes. Now each source is summarized and set up, then the overall theory is discussed in the model/anti-model, and then discussed how re-accentuation plays out in each source as it goes along.

We’ll see, when I’m done, if I like this better. If nothing else, I plan on perhaps moving things around in the source-segmented version too.

Dissertation Hunt 1: Believing a Man Can Fly

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So, this past week (and the one before), several elements and ideas came across my radar as I sift and examine the role of Superman as a rhetorical model (a role model) worthy of emulation and inspired action.

 

While waiting for a wedding to begin the Saturday before last (the 18th), I was struck by something that I decided to write down. So, here it is: Superman, being the template for all modern “super” heroes, being the first, has a responsibility that is built into the very core of the character. This responsibility is to convey the same ideal that heroes have been “burdened” with since man first conceived of them and spoke of them in mythology – to project a model of responsibility of responsibility of those who bear witness to their deeds, who hear about them and who are inspired by them, to wish to emulate this example.

250w_new_52_action_comics

That is a weighty bit of both responsibility on the “hero” but also on those who wish, in some way, to emulate that hero or superhero. In Action Comics #775 entitled “What’s So Funny Bout Truth, Justice & The American Way?” write Joe Kelly has Superman declare that “Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us and on my soul, I swear until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice becomes the reality we all share I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.” Now…that is a tall order. However, it speaks to three very distinct points worth noting.

 

The first is the idea and value of dreams. Some people treat dreams like they are something that goes on in the unconscious mind, but America, not to mention Superman and almost every other superhero found in the pages of comic books, is a dream. Dreams are hope; they are a belief that the world can be a better place. People spend their whole lives searching or chasing after their own version of the “American Dream.” Even more important, in order to understand the true nature and function of Superman, dreams inspire people to action and change. They inspire real life men that American’s revere such as Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy. These real life men carried out change and inspired others to “dream” as well. So, one might venture that dreams, having dreams – particularly in America – is something we take a bit more seriously than even we often realize.

 

The second is the idea of a perpetual and never-ending fight. This is something built into the comic book medium, a trope, but one might argue it is also a stand-in for the notion that life is itself, in one form or another, a struggle. For superheroes, for men and women gifted with extraordinary ability, the “struggles” are more than average – the struggles themselves become “super.” Dreams are things we struggle to make real. While Superman can save the day by preventing asteroids from striking the Earth or warding off super villains, the everyday person usually struggles to ward off bills or prevent their life from spiraling into chaos. So, really, how can the life of a superhero, trapped in the comic book pages locked in constant battle with villains and disasters that go on and on really compare to those struggles of the normal, real, everyday person?

 

The answer lies in the third idea found in statement above. This third points out the disconnect between ideals and reality that need to be reconciled. Superman can inspire in an individual the idea that if he can fight off the very evils of the world, then why cannot you, an individual person in the real world press on. Superman is hope. He is not allegorical, but applicable in the ways that the struggles he faces are fictional and astronomical, but the way he comports himself, how he handles the tough decisions and challenges he faces are manners and actions that even the “real” average human man or woman can look to and admire. Superman’s function as a model of behavior, of who we want to be – our better angels or selves – is something that bridges the world of fiction and reality with applicable concepts anyone can admire and emulate.

 

The role of Superman, as a rhetorical model, a figure who can inspire action and emulation in an applicable (and comparable form) is perhaps his truest and deepest power. He has his secret power that is the most powerful one. It shows in the comic books he appears in but its power reaches out even beyond those two dimensional pages. It crosses the third and fourth dimensions (yes, time – 75-years and counting) as well. The power of Superman as a rhetorical model reaches our real world and gives voice to the potential that lies in each and every one of us to make the world a better place in our own way. Superman offers up a potential ideal, that though at first glance appears to be fictionally out of grasp for reality, is, in fact, when looked at carefully filled with small bridges that allow anyone who looks close enough and hard enough can see hidden power that bridges the dreams of tomorrow with the reality of today.

 

Superman-Alex-Ross-Change

 

Big goals, but Superman is larger than life. So, no more chasing rabbit holes for me, its time to put on a cape and believe that a man can fly.

Leaping tall buildings…

So, I am back at it. Had this little thing where I got married a few weeks ago, you know, no big deal. Just kidding, it was an excellent “deal.”

 

Now, here is what I am thinking about.

 

It seems to me, as I think back on my time in Shaun Treat’s class (http://rhetoricsuperhero.wordpress.com), that the mid-1980’s saw some serious questioning of the superhero genre of comic books. The works of men such as Frank Miller and Alan Moore twisted and distorted the superhero in acts that appear to be last gasps and hurrahs for the genre that, perhaps for them, seem to have run its course. But it didn’t. It’s still around and stronger than ever. It seems as if they have missed the real question: why won’t they go away.

 

Superman has not died, well, not in the real world. In fact, no matter his stature of comic book relevance, the character continues to remain. He has become iconic; he has transcended the medium because he taps into something deeper.

 

My friend Carljoe Javier noted this in a Facebook status I agree with. He pointed out that

 

“Renowned writer Dennis O’ Neil says, ‘Lots and lots of people, myself included, were originally drawn to superheroes because something was not right with their lives.’ I believe the draw of superheroes lies in the superheroes’ struggles to fight obstacles that are seemingly insurmountable. We find things that are so bad about our lives that we cannot imagine how we could overcome them, and we find inspiration to fight and struggle because if Superman can save Metropolis, if Batman can save Gotham, if Spider-Man can save New York, if the Fantastic Four can save the multiverse, then surely I can overcome the obstacle in my life.”

 

In many ways I agree with this and I think it represents an adequate answer to why heroes, all kinds of heroes, and particularly superheroes continue to fascinate and captivate our attention – especially in times when the world around us appears to be fraught with perils.

 

What is it about Superman that makes him so appealing? It is because he performs tasks that inspire us to emulate him, not in terms of superpowers, but rather in abilities to help others, to be honest, and more. He is a rhetorical model. He is a persuasive agent who helps communicate abstract ideas via symbolic action within comic books. However, unlike comic books, the ideas that Superman helps communicate are engrained in the American identity.

 

This is what my dissertation will aim to explore.

 

So, keep an eye out for Prospectus, version 5.0…