Thursday, November 29, 2018

Comic Books in the High School American Literature Classroom and the College Composition Classroom

This blog post will address each of the following topics:

1. Comic book superheroes in the High School American Literature classroom.

2. Comic book superheroes in the College Composition classroom

Both unit ideas are born from a quote from the essay “The Subjective Politics of the Supervillain” by Chris Deis from the the book of essays What is a Superhero? published from Oxford University Press and edited by Robin S. Rosenberg and Peter Coogan.

“Because their abilities are so out of the ordinary, they are able to represent and embody deep truths about the human condition, truths that cut across culture, nation, and time. By implication, the superhero genre is about a great deal more than just guys and gals who wear tights and capes: these characters tell readers something about a given society’s values, struggles, and beliefs.”

Other resources:

1. This project can be an essay, or a slide presentation, or both. It can be entirely multimodal or monomodal. Ask students to choose a super character. This may be either a hero or a villain. The students must research where the character originated and must analyze their story the way one might analyze a literary character. Not only must they introduce the character and review their origin, they must consider what deep truth about the human condition their character embodies. I have used segments from the PBS documentary and related readings from the essays in What is a Superhero? to show how one may answer these questions.

For instructive purposes you could use a character like the Punisher. The Punisher represents our human craving for a simple black and white answer to difficult, or even unanswerable questions. In this way he shows us something about the human condition as well as American values. We often want our pursuit of the abstract ideals we attempt to realize to be simplified, which is perhaps why we have an opioid epidemic where there was once a pursuit of happiness, and we have Watergate, the Kent State shootings, the lack of verdict in the Rodney King trial and outcome of the OJ Simpson verdict scarring the beautiful face of Lady Justice.

After students view the segment on the Punisher from the PBS Documentary Superheroes: A Never Ending Battle they understand that the Punisher was born from the writers’ (Gerry Conway et al.) anxieties from living in pre-Giuliani New York City where street crime and the seedy underbelly of the permissive 1960s continued to fester resulting in an environment in which frequent muggings and shootings created widespread fear of simply walking down the street or catching a transfer on the subway. Further the Punisher is born from the anxieties created during the Watergate scandal where our notions of right and wrong were turned on their head, and Americans began to realize that they cannot trust even their leaders to follow the law. Students could even connect him to the ongoing debate over the death penalty, or the ethics of warfare and police protocol.

Finally, for more critical thinking, ask students to connect their character to a piece of classic American literature. If you have a classroom textbook encourage students to use it as a resource, and perhaps rather than leading them on an aimless path through the history of American Literature, students will come to view classic pieces with new eyes when asked to consider the works through the superhero lens. The Punisher could relate to Moby Dick in the sense that Ahab and Frank Castle are both monomaniacs seeking vengeance against that which has wronged them.

I have had the pleasure thus far of seeing students connect Deadpool to Yossarian in Catch 22, Batman to Dupin in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Thanos to Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” and even Miraculous Ladybug to Walt Whitman’s “Miracles.”

Other resources:
War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film, by Mark DiPaolo
Collegiate Academic Databases

2. I use superheroes in the college composition classroom a bit differently. Though the model I suggest above is not without a critical thinking element, I believe the critical thinking should be at a higher level in the college classroom. So, for an explanatory synthesis essay, students have to choose a character and study that character across at least three iterations while considering “how and why have the deep human truths this character embodies as well as the values, struggles, and beliefs changed or remained constant over time?” Answering this question requires a bit more research not only into the character, but into the society at large. Students are encouraged to focus on some thematic concern to narrow their thesis. Students may be attracted to more modern heroes, such as Deadpool, but I find that older heroes like Wonder Woman and Spider-Man provide not only more iterations, but more social factors to consider. For instance post 9/11 Captain America’s opinions about superhero registration in the Civil War storyline reveals a very different character than 1941 Captain America as a propaganda piece punching Hitler in the jaw... which forces the student to consider whom or what is the “Hitler” of 21st Century America, and why? How has Superman emerged as a champion of the oppressed and how has he continued that role into the 21st Century? Further, how has Wonder Woman sustained or not sustained her feminist message across the decades? If the Punisher was a manifestation of our conservative urges to clean up the streets and punish the guilty in Reagan's America, then what does he represent in 2018 in the wake of the riots in Ferguson, Baltimore and St. Louis? Could we imagine an African American Punisher? If so, whom would he find guilty?

What results from these questions are mature pieces of academic scholarship that synthesize at least three primary and three secondary sources into a measured look at how culture reflects societal change or the need for social change through comic books.  

Friday, October 26, 2018

Part Time Indian Journal 3... Continued


The only other Indian at Reardon is the mascot. Do you think Indian mascots are inherently disrespectful? Here’s what author Sherman Alexie had to say about the topic. Do you agree? Disagree? Why?

Penelope starts dating Arnold to make her dad, Earl, angry. How do our parents’ prejudices affect our lives?


Arnold makes a list of his favorite books on page 176-177. Learn about Arnold’s favorite books. Which one would you be most likely to read? Why might you find it compelling?


Arnold’s grandmother is described as “tolerant.” What does it mean to be tolerant, and is it even a good thing? Review this article and respond.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Part Time Indian Journal 3 Ideas


“Well, this article said that over two hundred Mexican girls have dissapeared in the last three years in that same part of the country. And nobody says much about that. Ands that’s racist. The guy who wrote the article says we care more about beautiful white girls than they do about everybody else on the planet. White girls are privileged. They’re damsels in distress.”

Consider doing further research and saying something about missing/murdered Native American Women:

Here’s a good one from a non-biased, fact reporting news source, The Associated Press

Here’s another in Teen Vogue. And another… And another….

Work Ethic

“The quality of a man’s life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of his chosen field of endeavor.”

Consider what Mike Rowe has to say about this with his SWEAT pledge. Would you sign this? Why or why not? Can you tell a story that reveals your commitment to SWEAT?


“Well, life is a constant struggle against being an individual and being a member of the community.”
What does Henry David Thoreau have to say about individuality? Do you agree or disagree? Is it possible to be both an individual and a member of the community? How?

Monday, October 8, 2018

Part Time Indian Superhero Class Writing

Part Time Indian Reading Journal 2 Chapters 3-6

Guilty Pleasures

  • We see that Rowdy loves old comics like Casper and Richie Rich, but is ashamed of it. An “amateur” is defined as “someone who loves or is fond of anything” What do you love or fond of? Is it a “guilty pleasure” like Rowdy’s love for kid’s comics?

For further reading related to “guilty pleasure” please see the following. Please respond
with your thoughts.

Further, Douglas Wilson once said “There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure.” Some
people, much like the author of the link above, believe that it’s perfectly okay for tough guys to love My Little Pony. As long as it’s not hurting someone else, who cares?
Engage with this idea.

“Old School”

  • Arnold goes ballistic when he sees his mother’s name in his Geometry textbook, indicating the book is over 30 years old. Is it a big deal? Have you ever experienced anything like this in school? Chocolate cake in a computer? Respond. Or, also respond to the news story about Blake Shelton’s textbook.

  • Mr. P admits to beating kids with the “ugly stick.” What are your thoughts on corporal punishment?  In the 90s, a story of an American teen facing caning in Singapore reopened the discussion of corporal punishment.  

Race and Culture

  • What is the definition of racism? Is there any actions in the book that have been motivated by racism? Explain your reasoning.

  • Mr. P Admits that it was partly his job to kill Indian culture. What do you think about kind of cultural assimilation? For further reading:


  • Mr. P is a memorable teacher for Arnold. Mr. P isn’t necessarily a great teacher, but he wins Arnold’s respect for giving him good advice. Have you ever gotten good advice from a teacher? Have you ever had a teacher that was memorable like Mr. P?

The Rez

  • We have been watching the documentary series 30 Days “Life on an Indian Reservation.” How has the documentary backed up what we have learned about rez life in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian? How is the documentary challenging what we have learned about life on the rez in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian?


  • Respond to Arnold’s ideas about hope. “... I do know that hope for me is like some mythical creature.” Emily Dickinson wrote about hope.  Respond with a metaphor of your own. What is hope?

  • We listened to the heavy metal song “Not My Master” in class. Connect the lyrics to the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.

Race… Again

  • Yesterday we read about Arnold’s “Incident” in the chapter “How To Fight Monsters.” Recall a moment when you encountered an “incident.”

  • Many students connected The X-Men with Arnold. Explain.

  • And just for fun here’s a message of hope from the one and only, Stan Lee.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian Journal Chapters 1-2

Some Points of Interest Thus Far…

Respond, when possible, with stories about how you can personally relate.

On Bullying

  • “Yep, I belong to the Black-Eye-of-the-Month-Club.”

  • “You wouldn’t think there is anything life threatening about speech impediments, but let me tell you, there is nothing more dangerous than being a kid with a stutter and a lisp.”



  • “ cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.” What is your tiny little lifeboat?


  • “Just take a look at the world. Almost all of the rich and famous brown people are artists.” Why do you think this is?  Who is your favorite rich and famous brown person?

  • “We indians really should be better liars, considering how often we’ve been lied to.”
Take a moment to appreciate the historical significance of this statement. According to the PWNA, “over 500 treaties were made with Native Americans, primarily for land cessations, but 500 treaties were also broken, changed or nullified when it served the government’s interest.”  


  • “I can’t blame my parents for our poverty because my mother and father are the twin suns around which I orbit and my world would EXPLODE without them.” Respond to the idea that forgiving our parents is one of the hardest things we have to do in life, but necessary on the road to adulthood.    

  • “...nobody paid attention to their dreams.” Whose responsibility is it to pay attention to dreams? Can someone help make your dream come true? What is your dream? What help will you need along the way to realize it?


  • “A bullet only costs about two cents, and anybody can afford that.” Is it easier to try and destroy a problem rather than fix it? Can you think of any real life examples of this? Rocket’s story.

  • “[Oscar] taught me more than any teachers ever did.” What has your pet taught you? How can this be just as important as what we learn in school?