Below, you’ll find my Advanced Composition syllabus. This is my first time teaching it, and 75% of the course is brand new. The general rules and regulations are mostly the same, and I do begin with a modified version of the final project from English Composition, but everything else I developed this summer. The major units are Education, Technology, Censorship, and Equality. We’re doing a lot of interesting activities here, and the thing I’m most excited for is having the students read “On Pregnancy and Privacy and Fear” by Aubrey Hirsch and then skype with her the following class. Again, feel free to use any of this for your own pedagogical purposes. Feel free to comment below. Feel free to share what you’re up to.
Advanced Composition: Expository Writing
University of Indianapolis
Assistant Professor Salvatore Pane
Office Hours: 10-11 MWF, 2-3 MW
Navigating the Future: Writing into Action
The Best American Essays, Sixth College Edition, edited by Robert Atwan
Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White
Lives on the Boundary, by Mike Rose
Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, by Richard Rodriguez
Writer’s Reference, Seventh Edition, by Diane Hacker
Welcome to Advanced Composition
You’ve taken other English courses before. You know a little something about how to write an essay, and you’re pleased with some of the work you’ve produced in the past. However, there’s a nagging sensation when you hand in assignments. You can complete the work in a satisfactory way, but you’re left wondering if there’s any way you can complicate your thinking, made your ideas more complex, more concrete.
In Advanced Composition, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. We’ll use discussion and essays not only to prove standard points but to grapple with really difficult problems tackling society and ourselves. What can an essay do to fix the educational system, to end world poverty? It’s time to write the future.
This is a class in which we will write A LOT. We will write about the reading we do and write about the thinking we do and then write about the writing we do and just plain write. This description may sound exhausting or exciting, but either way, you can be sure that the course will be both challenging and rewarding. The essay assignments and short exercises in this course are designed to help you approach writing from a variety of contexts, using a variety of techniques. We are trying to look beyond pat formulas (such as the five-paragraph essay) while still understanding the writely conventions specific to each piece and how they can be useful. At times, the prompts might ask you to employ a particular strategy or style of a published essayist, but always with the aim of exploring your own range of writing and voices.
Workshopping and revision will be key components of our work in this class. We will put essays from inside and outside of class onto the table to find out what is working or not working for us as readers and writers. The object is to take what we learn from workshop and apply it to our own writing in future drafts and revisions. I encourage you to look at every assignment that you complete as a draft that can be improved rather than a finished product.
Critical engagement and close reading will also be integral to this course. In fact, I hope that they will both become daily practices. A big part of this class is learning to complicate your thinking, to notice the details of language and composition on a micro and macro level. Throughout the term, we will do close reading exercises focusing on various literary and rhetorical devices with the aim of nuancing our own analyses and writing. Producing work that is fresh and insightful depends upon being able to draw out insightful readings of other texts, of ourselves, and of the world. Advanced Composition will push you to ask not only the “how” of writing but also the “why” and the “so what.”
Things to Remember
Push yourself to be innovative and creative. Push yourself to take that extra step towards flushing out the complexity of an issue. This class is a safe place to take risks that may not always improve your writing in the short term but will help you better understand writing and the successful choices you can make as a writer over time. You will be given plenty of time to write during class. Use this to your advantage.
One of our goals is to forge a community of writers who participate in an ongoing and constructive conversation about the craft. Advanced Composition illustrates quite literally how your writing is always part of a public conversation!
Turning in Your Writing
It’s important that you turn in your writing on time, as late work cannot become part of class discussion. Likewise, because the Essays and Exercises build upon one another, turning in late work means you miss out on comments that would help you with the upcoming assignment. Since you will regularly revise your work, make sure to keep electronic and paper copies. All papers must be written in Times New Roman 12 with one inch fonts. Failure to comply will result in a lowered grade. Also, please title your work. Do not generically title your papers, “Essay 2” or “Essay on Education.”
All of the assigned readings are either in Best American Essays or on Ace. It is your responsibility to print out the readings we will focus on in any given class session. Everything you will need is explained in the Course Sequence. You only have to read essays marked “Homework.” If you do not bring print outs of the readings, I will take off participation points. If this becomes a consistent problem, I will start marking you absent.
You will receive provisional grades on each of the essays you turn in, but you will have a chance to revise those essays throughout the semester. At your mid-term conference you will receive a provisional grade, which is in no way final and is not factored into your final grade. Rather, this mid-term assessment is intended to give you a sense of how your writing is being evaluated and of your progress in the course. You are always welcome to stop by during office hours to talk about your writing or your grade. Keep in mind that your final portfolio will be comprised of three polished essays. Thus, you are encouraged to keep on reworking essays that you like throughout the semester.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Classroom participation will affect your grade. Lack of engagement or preparation will lower your grade. Regular comments and involvement with moving the ongoing conversation of the class forward will increase your grade.
EXTREMELY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you turn in a paper late, you will lose an entire letter grade. If you turn in a paper more than 24 hours late, it is an automatic failure. Automatic failures WILL impact your final grade in the class. No excuses.
Essays & evaluations 70%
Exercises and class participation 30%
1) A successful student will add thoughtful and complex commentary to every class discussion.
2) A successful student will hand in thoughtful and complex essays on time for each corresponding assignment.
3) A successful student will complete all of the exercises with great attention to detail.
4) A successful student will substantially revise and extend two of their essays.
5) A successful student will be able to analyze difficult texts and think about their place in the world in new and constructive ways.
6) A successful student will be able to make connections between seemingly disparate threads.
You will have at least one conference with me over the course of the semester at mid-term. This meeting takes place in my office. It will be brief and is designed to better gauge individual needs and interests as well as get feedback.
I want to be as clear as I can on this. If you miss class five times, you will fail. There will be no make up assignments. Don’t come back to class. The ONLY excuses I will accept are a doctor’s excuse or some kind of family emergency. I am not going to make any exceptions on this front.
You should always be on time for class. If you are late, you will not get credit for attending an entire class.
If you are unprepared for discussion or workshop, I cannot give you credit for attendance that day.
The syllabus is subject to change. I will only push assignments and readings back however. No assignment will ever be due earlier than it’s listed here.
Monday August 27
Syllabus & Introductions
Azar Nafisi “Words of War”
In Class Writing
Wednesday August 29
Nate Jackson “The NFL’s Head Cases”
Friday August 31
Ray Fisman “Clean Out Your Desks”
Homework: Read Chapters 1 and 2 of Lives on the Boundary
Wednesday September 5
Discuss Mike Rose “I Just Wanna Be Average”
Homework: Come to Next Class Prepared to Discuss One Problem You’ve Had With the Educational System
Friday September 7
Discuss Educational Problems
Homework: Read “Aria” in Hunger of Memory
Monday September 10
Discuss “Aria” in Hunger of Memory
Homework: Read “The Achievement of Desire” in Hunger of Memory
Wednesday September 12
Discuss “The Achievement of Desire” in Hunger of Memory
Exercise E (Group Activity)
Friday September 14
Molly Lambert “The ‘Poor Jen’ Problem”
Homework: Read Hephzibah Roskelly “Redneck Daughter in the Academy”
Monday September 17
Discuss Hephzibah Roskelly “Redneck Daughter in the Academy”
Discuss Essay #1
Wednesday September 19
Examples of Essay #1
Friday September 21
Farhad Manjoo “Is Facebook a Fad?”
Zoe Kleinman “How the Internet is Changing Language”
Monday September 24
Essay #1 Due
Wednesday September 26
Roger Ebert’s Twitter Feed
Kellee Santiago “Are Video Games Art?”
Homework: Read Nicholas Carr “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”
Friday September 28
Discuss Nicholas Carr “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”
Monday October 1
Discuss Jane Wakefield “3D Proves a Hit in the Classroom”
Wednesday October 3
Discuss Essay 2
Ben Percy “Keep Doing What You Are Doing, James Franco”
Friday October 5
Discuss Revision 1
Monday October 8
Wednesday October 10
Friday October 12
Essay #2 Due
Wednesday October 17
Friday October 19
Monday October 22
Wednesday October 24
Revision 1 Due
The Simpsons “Itchy and Scratchy and Marge”
Friday October 26
Monday October 29
Discuss Elliot Feldman “Frank Zappa Vs. Tipper Gore”
Homework: Read Jason Wire “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?”
Wednesday October 31
Discuss Jason Wire “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?”
Homework: Read Alan M. Dershowitz “Shouting ‘Fire!’”
Friday November 2
Discuss Alan M. Dershowitz “Shouting ‘Fire!’”
Monday November 5
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Wednesday November 7
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Friday November 9
Discuss Essay #3
Homework: Read Peter Singer “The Peter Singer Solution to World Poverty”
Monday November 12
Discuss Peter Singer “The Peter Singer Solution to World Poverty”
Read Aubrey Hirsch “On Pregnancy and Privacy and Fear”
Wednesday November 14
Discuss Aubrey Hirsch “On Pregnancy and Privacy and Fear”
Skype with Aubrey Hirsch
Friday November 16
Watch Adelph Molinari “Let’s Bridge the Digital Divide!”
Monday November 19
Essay #3 Due
Discuss Essay #4
Monday November 26
Wednesday November 28
Friday November 30
Monday December 3
Wednesday December 5
Friday December 7
Final Portfolios Due
For this first writing assignment, we would like you to discuss authority in Azar Nafisi’s “Words of War.”
At some point in your response, we would like you to focus in on specifics. Which details capture your attention and why? As you describe what you read—bombs over Iran, some strange book called Pride and Prejudice, allusions to the US War in Iraq—consider what gives Nafisi “authority.” Authority, on the page, is when readers believe what a writer writes. What makes you believe that Nafisi knows what she’s talking about? Is it because she is from Iran? Is it because she is a university professor? Is it because she uses big words? Or do you not believe her, and if so, why not?
While you may come to some interesting conclusions by the end of your response, you should not feel obligated to wrap things up neatly or to offer a definitive set of statements. In fact, rather than driving toward a pre-determined conclusion, we want to encourage you to surprise yourself, to discover new interpretive territory. Try writing without knowing quite where you will land. You may even find that as your understanding deepens, a whole new set of questions arises.
You will have the rest of class to complete your response.
Essay #1 (4 pages)
DUE MONDAY SEPTEMBER 24th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 11AM
“Students will float to the mark you set. I and the others in the vocational classes were bobbing in pretty shallow water. Vocational education has aimed at increasing the economic opportunities of students who do not do well in our schools. Some serious programs succeed in doing that, and through exceptional teachers… students learn to develop hypotheses and troubleshoot, reason through a problem, and communicate effectively—the true job skills. The vocational track, however, is most often a place for those who are just not making it, a dumping ground for the disaffected. There were a few teachers who worked hard at education; young Brother Slattery, for example, combined a stern voice with weekly quizzes to try to pass along to us a skeletal outline of world history. But mostly the teachers had no idea of how to engage the imaginations of us kids who were scuttling along at the bottom of the pond.”
—Mike Rose in “I Just Wanna Be Average”
For Essay #1, you will combine personal inquiry and argument, an essay that not only reveals the writer’s life, but one that also strives to make a point. The educational system is something every one of you has experienced on some level. Each person in this course has gone through high school, and now you’ve chosen to extend your education here at UIndy. Yet many of you feel there are a great many problems within the educational system. Richard Rodriguez tells a personal story about being forced to speak English instead of Spanish and how badly that damaged his relationship with his family. He then parlays that into an argument against widespread bilingual education. Mike Rose tells a personal story about being shuttled into the vocational track instead of the honors courses where he rightfully belonged. He then parlays that into an argument about students rising to what’s expected of them so that honors students act like honors students and vocational students act like vocational students. Hephzibah Roskelly tells stories about stories, referring to her days growing up on the farm and listening to her family’s tales. She parlays this into an argument about narrative as educational tool and the unjust stereotype most people think of when they hear the term “redneck.”
For this essay, you must write a personal story about education and parlay that into an argument about education. Pick something you care about. Be interested in your work. If you are bored with your topic, so will your readers. What links Rodriguez, Rose and Roskelly is that they have all chosen to write about deeply personal matters and use those feelings to write a coherent argument about education. You must critique the educational system. Nearly anything is fair game, everything from kindergarten to high school to college athletics to unfair distribution of scholarships. Secondly, like Roskelly, you must use sources. For this essay, we are requiring that you use two of the three education readings (Roskelly, Rodriguez or Rose) in addition to two outside sources on your own. Your sources must be integrated organically into the paper like in Roskelly’s, and you must provide a works cited. Search out people who agree with your argument. Search out people who disagree with your. Like anything, the debate concerning education is an ongoing conversation. Your paper is not an island, but a mere dialogue in an endless series of conversations.
Essay #2 (4 pages)
DUE FRIDAY OCTOBER 12th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 11AM
“And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski. I’m not the only one.”
It’s difficult to argue that the proliferation of the internet and broadband technology haven’t affected our lives in a number of ways. Farhad Manjoo discusses the power social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter hold over our lives, while Zoe Kleinman shows us how the internet is rapidly reconfiguring the way we communicate offline and online. While Kelle Santiago and Roger Ebert spur endlessly about whether or not video games are art, Jane Wakefield visits schools around the UK who have already adopted 3D technology in middle school classrooms. And then, of course, there’s Nicholas Carr who has written an entire book aiming to prove that the internet has reshaped the way humans process information.
Technology can affect our educations, it can affect our communications and relationships, and it can even affect our minds. For this assignment, we want you to imagine the future. What effect is technology having on us and what are the pros and cons? In this essay, you will try and predict where technology is leading us as a people and what exactly makes you think that. If you believe text messaging will leave future generations unable to spell correctly, that’s fine, but you must show evidence of that in the here and now using sources. The bolded words above are vague enough for you to use your own interests. Do you think experimental German surgeries will allow athletes to play professionally well into their forties, and what are the pros and cons of that (look it up, Kobe Bryant did it, and now a host of other athletes are too)? Do you think the increased dependence on social media over physical relationships will lead to legions of depressed Americans? Will the ever-improving world of technology lead to a glorious new age like Kellee Santiago predicts, or will it leads us into doom like Nicholas Carr imagines? Maybe it’s something in between.
For this paper, you must use four critical sources. Two must come from either the Manjoo, Kleinman, Santiago, Carr, or Wakefield. No Wikipedia.
Revision #1 (6 pages)
DUE WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 24th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 11AM
“When you write,” Annie Dillard says, “you lay out a line of words . . . Soon you find yourself in new territory. Is it a dead end or have you located your real subject?” You write a first draft. A few weeks pass and the terrain changes. You have some ideas for improvements. Those comments in the margins are a good place to begin. A few pointed questions, the occasional word of advice. You have the voices of your classmates, a few new ideas about writing. That’s a good start, you say to yourself.
For this assignment, you will substantially revise one of your essays and take it in a new direction. Begin by reading over your writing, looking again at those lines of words you laid down. Think about where you want them to go now. How have your ideas about what you wanted to say, or how you wanted to speak, changed? Where do you find yourself at a dead-end? Are there questions in the margins that open up new routes, perhaps calling to mind stories you have yet to tell, ideas you would like to pursue further?
Once you have read through your writing and the comments, decide which essay you will revise. Be sure to ask if you have questions about anything written on your draft.
Plan on spending at least as much time and effort revising as you did writing the original. In some instances, you may write new paragraphs, entirely new pages. In others cases, you will undoubtedly find yourself fine-tuning single sentences. Highlight the revised and new material by using a different colored font. Once you have completed your revision, the new essay should look quite different from the original.
If you scored an A on the first draft, cut 10% of your material. If you scored a B on the first draft, cut 25% of your material. If you received a C or lower on the first draft, cut 50% of your material.
Essay #3 (4 pages)
Due Monday November 19th in My E-mail Inbox by 11am
“Get dressed, Marge. You’ve got to lead our protest against this abomination!”
“Hmm, but that’s Michelangelo’s David. It’s a masterpiece.”
“It’s filth! It graphically portrays parts of the human body which, practical as they may be, are evil.”
“But I like that statue.”
Cartoon characters are banned for being too violent. Prince and Purple Rain are blamed for the devolution of a nation. Street artists are chased by police officers across European rooftops. The KKK distributes flyers right in our own backyard here in Beech Grove. Yet a man can allow a dog to starve to death and call it art, and nothing happens to him.
Censorship is a slippery slope, yet it exists all around us. Alan Dershowitz argues you can yell “Fire!” in a movie theatre but after the events of Aurora, Colorado, and before that 9/11, this seems pretty unlikely. Is censorship ever ok? Should more things be censored? The KKK? Artists murdering dogs? People who protest soldiers’ funerals? Or, by allowing these people protection via free speech, are we illuminating the stupidity of their ideas? What are the dangers inherent in censoring? Can we go too far either way?
Over the last few weeks, we’ve discussed censorship and your various stances toward it. For this assignment, pretend that you’ve been assigned by the government to come up with a new policy on censorship in America. Will you take a hard line, censoring violence and nudity on television or other forms of artistic expression? Or will you take an anything goes mentality? What are the pros and cons of your stance? Tease out the ramifications. Come up with a competent argument for why your censorship policy is best for America.
For this assignment, you will use four sources. Two must come from either the Simpsons episode, Exit Through the Gift Shop, the Elliot Feldman, the Jason Wire, or the Alan Dershowitz articles. Two must be your own, and they must be critical sources. No Wikipedia.
Essay #4 (8 pages)
Due Friday December 7th In My E-mail Inbox By 11am
“If this baby is a girl, I am hopeful that things will be different when it’s her turn. That she will read this essay in thirty years and laugh and say, ‘Mom, you were so crazy.’ Because she will feel so in control of her life, her choices, her body, that she won’t be able to imagine a time when any small modicum of control had to be flexed, hoarded, treasured. She will be part of a generation of girls unassaulted by their society. They will walk around generous and uninjured. Or maybe that’s just the dream of this pregnant woman, because we all want better for our kids than we had ourselves.”
The world can sometimes be a pretty unjust place. Over the last few weeks, we’ve read Peter Singer’s account of poverty and starvation in the third world. We’ve seen Adelph Molinari explain the vast digital divide that excludes so many global citizens. And we’ve read and chatted with Aubrey Hirsch who felt changed by her pregnancy from “Aubrey” into a “Mother-to-be.”
And yet, the solutions are hard to see. Peter Singer’s solution to world poverty seems completely implausible and impossible. Aubrey Hirsch hopes for a better tomorrow for her child but isn’t exactly sure how or even if that will happen. Adelph Molinari forms a plan of action but admits he’s extremely far away from his goal of bridging the digital divide. All three writers and thinkers agree that although equality is a goal we should strive for, it’s an incredibly difficult goal to achieve.
For this essay, you will be asked to transform yourself into a positive force for change. Much like in your educational autobiography earlier this semester, we want you to choose a problem you care about that has to do with equality. Like Adelph Molinari, you must select a real, physical problem—in his case, the lack of internet access in the third world—and try and sketch out a solution. This must be a real life problem with a real, tangible solution. However, you don’t have to be ambitious to the point where you set out to end world poverty. Think locally. What is a problem with equality you have witnessed in your own lives? Have would you solve it? First, explain why this is a problem that must be addressed. Remember how Hirsch and Molinari argue why their causes are so important. Then set forth your explanation, arguing why exactly this is a feasible way forward. Your problem and solution may relate back to education, technology, or censorship. In many ways, this is the culmination of everything we’ve discussed this semester. It’s time to take the thinking you’ve done and transform it into something concrete.
You will be required to use four critical sources. For this assignment, you are not required to use the two essays and video we discussed during this unit, but you may use one, and only one, if you wish. Find sources that are related to your problem.
DUE DECEMBER 7th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 11AM
In addition to Essay #4, you also must turn in Revision #1, and Revision #2. For Revision #2, you will revise any of the first three essays you haven’t revised already. The same rules apply. You must cut out either 50%, 25%, or 10% of your work depending on your grade. Then you must extend the paper to six FULL pages.