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.

Coming Soon…

So, I had the idea to help move this site forward by combining it with some of my own more current and applicable research. When I say applicable, I of course mean applying the visual medium of superheroes and graphic narratives to the First Year Composition Classroom.

 

To this end I am beginning to develop some research that I want to aim to apply in the classroom, rhetorically, to aid students in understanding the material presented to them.

 

Therefore, I plan to post material I will be developing and using in the classroom to the sister site I am using on WordPress: Rhetoric and Composition for the Modern Student.

 

My plan is to post the material as I develop it on the site for the students, as well, with some of it, on this site as well. This site will also form the location where I will conduct meta-commentary on my observations, research, and development of the material with the students. A bit like a journal.

 

The intention is to create podcast walkthroughs, video casts, diagrams, and graphic narratives to illustrate and assist students in the classroom.

 

So, yeah, that’s the plan…stay tuned.

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 Progress: Frustration at the corner of identity and authority

So, as of last week my Prospectus was officially all signed by committee, my department head, and now by the head of the graduate school. So, even though I have already been working under the precepts that it would be accepted for over two months, now it is official official and I have a nice letter from the graduate school declaring that “Critically Understanding Inspired Emulation: Seeing the Man of Steel as a Rhetorical Model of American Arête” is a definite and approved TWU Doctoral Dissertation topic.

 

Now, all that being said, getting this thing off the ground the last 2+ months was not an easy trick.

 

For starters, there was the rush at the end of the semester (grading and what not) then holidays where my wife and I were traveling, and then there was cleaning up at the house and rearranging to prep for our own little blessing from Krypton arriving this summer. So, lots of preparation and planning that through a wrench into acting on the writing process itself.

 

Another element that got in the way of moving forward was: where to start?

 

Now, I know that should be an easy answer, “duh, at the beginning.” However, I knew what and how I wanted to start but my problem developed from the fear, one born out during my prospectus process, of myself becoming repetitive and overstating things (as I do when I teach). This left me at a big impasse, not to mention figuring out how and when to do my work, that I let build and build from a Hobbit hole sized issue into the Lonely Mountain itself with me desperately looking for the keyhole on the last light of Durin’s Day (yes, I saw the Hobbit 2 over the holidays). This left me with what looked like one hell of a climb, so, I did the smart thing and turned to the sage advice of my dissertation director.

 

So, the answer of moonlight came in the notion that a non-linear approach might serve me best and allow me to work directly on the area in my project I felt most comfortable and eager to engage: the Analysis Chapters. Specifically, I took from the example in my prospectus and applied myself to looking at Analysis Ch. 3 containing an examination of All-Star Superman.

 

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s mythic and grand Superman narrative was what had created my own light bulb moment some years back and when I took note of it, it was that “duh” moment I had been searching for all along. All of sudden, a flood of ideas and information came pouring out of my head. I knew I wanted to look at All-Star Superman, Superman Birthright (Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu) and Superman: Secret Origin (Geoff Johns and Gary Frank), but what did not expect was the torrent that I had unleashed.

 

All_Star_Superman_Covercomics-superman-birthrightSuperman_Secret_Origin_1B

 

I am not kidding when I say ideas came rushing out. I found myself attempting to limit myself to three examples from each and in that process I discovered the three primary points I wanted to make. For one, I specifically had chosen this analysis chapter to look at Bakhtinian theory surrounding the application of re-accentuation in the Superman narrative because the works here lent themselves quite specifically to that point. What ultimately came pouring out though lead to explorations of the identification (Burke), Aristotle’s points of noble virtue, and connections between ideas of self-fashioning (Greenblatt) and the model/anti-model idea of Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca.

 

But getting back to the three primary points I wanted to examine in the chapter, they were:

 

1.Specifically attempt to re-accentuate a classic element, image, or aspect of Superman’s iconography. In the case of Superman: Secret Origin, this fell to looking at Superman: The Movie and Christopher Reeves.

 

imagesSMSO Cv4 ds

 

2.Make a specific illustration of the model and anti-model relationship, particularly and defined in all three by the relationship of Clark Kent/Superman and Lex Luthor.

 

supermanversuslexluthor

 

3.Look for and illustrate Superman’s ability to embody Weldon’s concepts of the basic Superman characteristics – help others and never give up – as found in the sources as ways to which Superman inspires those both within and without the narrative.

 

supermanbirthright

 

Along the way, I had to add to this chapter and discuss the ramifications of these two audience perspectives along with the notion of how retrocontinuity or retcon functioned as a point within these three narratives I was examining.

 

So, altogether I have birthed a Leviathan and I hope I can survive it.

 

It will need revision and there is already a mountain of material I am starting to compile, not to mention visually mapping it out afterwards. Particularly, I need to investigate just how the external and internal audiences function.

 

Ultimately, what I am aiming to do, to keep myself poised on at all times, is the understanding of my central question: How does Superman maintain and enhance rhetorical persuasion? What is it about him that allows him to be as persuasive as he is?

 

So, now we move on to revision and more drafting. The next frontier lies with Analysis Ch. 2 and attempting the first major attempts to re-invent Superman and alter his narrative in order to update the changes in his identification and conceptions of virtue culturally (John Byrne’s Man of Steel). This will look at reinvention and exploration of Superman’s narrative when taken to extreme limits and appropriations in Superman: Red Son and Kingdom Come and what this reveals.

Dissertation Hunt 2: Re-accentuation and Retrocontinuity

So, first, let me start with the term that is perhaps most unfamiliar to a comic book audience, re-accentuation. Russian scholar Mikhail Bakhtin postulated, in his work The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, in an analysis of the novel as a form of style and as a process of transformation as well. Bakhtin states that the

 

. . . process-re-accentuation-is considerably more complicated and may fundamentally distort the way novel style is understood. This process has to do with the “feel” we have for distancing, and involves the tact with which an author assigns his accents, sometimes smudging and often completely destroying for us their finer nuances. (419)

 

The reality at work here is that the idea of re-accentuation distance between an original incarnation of a concept from what it is now that it is applied. To think upon this with regards to Superman: if Superman is a conceptual embodiment is an embodiment of classical arête then one must acknowledge that time has put distance between what arête was for ancient Greeks (it even evolved for them) and what Superman has come to represent based on the application of such ideas when conceived Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

 

With the idea of Superman, one is dealing with both the written word and the visual image. Bakhtin is primarily focused on the “written word” and states that

 

For the word is, after all, not a dead material object in the hands of an artist equipped with it; it is a living word and is therefore in all things true to itself; it may become anachronous and comic, it may reveal its narrowness and one-sidedness, but its meaning-once realized-can never he completely extinguished. And under changed conditions this meaning may emit bright new rays, burning away the reifying crust that had grown up around it and thus removing any real ground for a parodic accentuation, dimming or completely extinguishing such re-accentuation. (419)

 

Bakhtin speaks of “emit[ing] bright new rays” and that under changed condition something like classical Greek arête may lose its original meaning based on its fixed and “anachronous” ideas, but this does not prevent the idea of virtue, of arête, from being extinguished completely, but may require a form of constant revision and reinvention instead.

 

Now, retcon (short for retrocontinuity) is something more familiar for the comic book fan and audience. Searching for a definition, I decided to not use the Wikipedia entry and chose to go with the Oxford English Dictionary online version instead. They define it as a noun and verb, as a noun, it is commonly seen as “a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events, typically used to facilitate a dramatic plot shift or account for an inconsistency” (oxforddictionaries.com). Basically, its something done or inserted in order to generate a change or revision of previous material, often to make it fresh or to correct some kind of error in continuity. This ties into it as a verb, where it is defined as being a form of revision, revision that is done “retrospectively,” by asserting its definition given for being a noun” (oxforddictionaries.com).

 

Now, here is where I am going with this: an example of a bit of retcon and a bit of internal re-accentuation of Superman. This is a re-accentuation as facilitated via retrocontinuity.

 

I am a big fan of Grant Morrison as a writer, and Frank Quitely as an artist, and a really big fan of their collaborations, particularly their 12-issue self-contained epic of All-Star Superman. Particularly, there is a page where Superman saves a young girl from killing herself; however, he does it in perhaps not the most “expected” of ways. He saves here by imparting to her an inner strength she already has but by functioning as a model, an outward manifestation of that inner strength. It is a brilliant page and perhaps my favorite moment in comic books of all time, definitely it is what I feel is the “essence” of Superman.

 

So, what is all this to do with re-accentuation and retrocontinuity (retcon)? Well, it is worth noting that this page I admire so very much plays upon a similar premise to one found in one of Superman’s earliest adventures. In Action Comics #9, entitled “Superman: Wanted,” there is another such scene of Superman saving someone who exhibits suicidal thoughts. Now, unlike the depiction in All-Star Superman, and roughly seven decades later, this version of Superman catches a man after he has jumped and just in time before he meets an unfortunate end with the pavement below.

 

Even more striking is the juxtaposition of these two similar but differently accentuated depictions of Superman’s powers. To begin, the Superman found in Action Comics #9 (February 1939) is a character in his own infancy but one who is also aimed more directly towards an audience of kids. He is appearing in a title billed to be full of “action” and his stories, written and drawn by his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, speaks in direct, overt language and actions that leave no mystery to what he is out to do – save people’s lives. This kind of character works for the audience he is aimed at, but what happens to characters like Superman after decades of time and changes in the audience.

 

Well, that is where retconing becomes important.

 

Its through retconing characters that they are kept viable. They need to be reinvented and Superman has had plenty of them himself – most recently the New 52. Morrison and Quitely’s depiction in All-Star Superman (though technically separate from the normal continuity) is no exception. Morrison and Quitely are performing their own grand style, epic retcon of Superman. This maxi-series brings together many different and divergent elements of Superman’s seven decades of history in order for Morrison and Quitely to spin together a magnificent story of Superman facing his own mortality and the choice he makes in the face of death: to continue doing what he always does, save the day. Superman does not abandon his own ethos, in fact, Morrison and Quitely are able to in fact draw out and highlight, relying on Superman’s own complicated and previously retconed universe, the essence of Superman, distilled into a 12-issue series.

 

What Morrison and Quitely masterfully are doing is re-accentuating chosen elements of Superman’s continuity and developing their own compressed (and separate) retcon of his very essence and displaying it.

 

If one examines Superman from the Action Comics #9 story with that in All-Star Superman (issue #10) what is revealed is essentially the same character, just different levels of complexity that reveal the evolution of his audience over the decades and the complications/tensions/ expanded abilities of Superman himself.

 

First, there is the depiction and evolution of mental illness on display. The man who jumps in Action Comics #9 is seem to be outside the window of a sanatorium or mental hospital. This implies overtones of how mental illness was seen, though we are not told how serious his condition was, to be something of a dangerous social stigma. This contrasts with the girl in All-Star Superman #10 who is obviously in a form out-patient care of a psychiatrist, and appears to suffer from depression, to which Superman appears both sympathetic to but also acknowledging a far more common and slightly-less stigmatized view in turn.

 

Second, and most importantly, in the original story Superman catches the mental patient after he has jumped (Action Comics #9) while this young woman he helps before she attempts suicide and jumps (All-Star Superman #10). Most interesting here is the contrasting of overt vs. covert, explicit vs. implicit powers concerning Superman. In the former, Superman demonstrates his powers openly and without any particular complication or sub-text, no message to pass on other than “someone” might save you too. The later is more powerful because of its complexity. This is an evolved Superman who is able, through the comic book medium, to express more implicit and inspirational powers rather than the traditional overt ones. It is a masterful encapsulation and reveal of the essence of Superman, an essence that existed even in the Action Comics #9 of 1939.

 

The beauty of this is just how complex and complicated superheroes really have the power to be along with the acknowledgment that they are not static creations, but rather ever-evolving, continually retconed characters who have the power to accentuate or re-accentuate elements of the real world through “living myths” that convey and communicate deeper needs and truths.

 

Works Cited

 

Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Trans. Michael Holquist and Caryl

Emerson. Austin: U of Texas P, 1982. Print.

 

Morrison, Grant and Frank Quitely. All-Star Superman. New York: DC Comics, 2010. Print.

 

“Retcon.” Oxford Dictionaries. Oxforddictionaries.com. 22 Nov. 2013.

 

Seigel, Jerry and Joe Shuster. “Wanted: Superman.” The Superman Chronicles, Vol. 1. New

York: DC Comics, 2006. Print.