Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Comic Books in the Classroom

Explanatory Synthesis strives to weave together two or more sources into a presentation of fact to the greater end of a fulfilment of a thesis. Traditionally I have taught explanatory synthesis in College Composition I by having students trace the evolution of a popular fairy tale in order to say something about how or why that particular tale has developed the way it has, or to explore the socio-cultural significance or psychological impacts of said evolution. Students have enjoyed doing this, by and large. The secondary source material is basically provided through the textbook: Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum, in Maria Tatar’s “An Introduction to Fairy Tales.” Students are encouraged to use the college database to further their synthesis and add credibility to their thesis, which, usually, they have no trouble doing. This year we added comic heroes (and villains in some cases), to our practice of explanatory synthesis. It has been a challenge finding and recommending “foundational” secondary source material, such as Tatar, for the students of comic heroes. After some research I decided to use sections of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. While McCloud defines “comic” and discusses why comics are an effective storytelling medium (in perhaps greater detail than necessary) I can’t help but feel that this source is not foundational to our study of comics the way Tatar’s essay is to our study of fairy tales because it doesn’t delve as completely into the psychology of how we process the messages comic books bring us.  

In short, I’m still searching for the magical secondary source that will validate and further elucidate our study of the comic book genre. Names like Will Eisner come up, and Micheal Chabon, but these are just really talented guys that discuss the genre without discussing specific effects comics have on the mind of children and adults. The book Superhero Origins by Robin S. Rosenburg has been interesting, as it offers analysis of several popular superheroes through the lens of modern psychology. The closest thing to a piece on the comic itself is the essay "Origin Stories: Why We Care."

What I'd like to see, again, is an approachable essay that is a hybrid between what McCloud has done and what Rosenburg does, with the psychoanalytical focus being on the reader, at both the childhood and adult level.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Big Dark

I just finished reading this to my son, Wyatt, age 8. We picked it out at his school book fair. We really enjoyed the book, which is set in a little town in New Hampshire after a geomagnetic event leaves everyone on earth without electrical power of any kind. For me, the most intriguing element of the book is the conflict between Reginald Kingman and Webster Bragg.

Bragg, who lives on a fortified compound, attempts to establish a new country ironically called Liberty, of which he is the supreme leader. Bragg attempts to found Liberty through intimidation (he and all of his many sons carry AR-15s), white supremacy (there are a few passages in which Bragg relates his feelings on white superiority), and the theory that only the strong should survive. He also has hoarded most of the town's supplies and has a large cache of gold coins.

Reginald Kingman is the school janitor and volunteer policeman who opposes Bragg's would-be rule. Kingman attempts to help everyone, including the elderly, and is criticized for not handling people like Bragg with direct action (we learn Kingman was the best pistol shot in the state, so the prospects for violent conflict are always lurking). He also lies to the townspeople about owning a working crystal powered radio.

The story follows Charlie Cobb, who is courageous and good, on a journey to do what's right. Through reading Charlie's story (which, maybe could have been more steeped in Kingman and Bragg's conflict) Wyatt and I discussed our current political landscape, the question of government's role in our lives, race, violence, and the nature of good and evil.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Thoreau in High School: The Tiny House Movement

So in order to engage high school students with Thoreau, one of the challenges is to create a palpable connection between his ideas and the modern world. I start by focusing on the chapter in Walden from Economy in which he outlines the plans to build his cabin and tie it to the Tiny House Movement.  More specifically, I focus on his idea that college students should build their own dorms: "I thus found that the student who wishes for a shelter can obtain one for a lifetime at an expense not greater than the rent which he now pays annually."  In this section, Thoreau makes some great points about the value of vocational training.  Since I work in a vocational school, my students can relate their educational philosophies to his perhaps more easily than students in a traditional high school setting.  Usually, after reading and discussing this section with my students, they are engaged by the following video, in which Austin Hay seems to be living Thoreau's ideas in the modern world.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Thoreau in High School: Prereading

Ever since I visited Walden pond in 2009 with my wife and son, I've tried to do a good job bringing Thoreau's mind to high schoolers (better, I hope than my American Lit teacher did for me: I graduated thinking Thoreau was the Unibomber), so this year we've spent a semester writing Nature Journals that require students to take a picture of something in nature and then to reflect upon it in one of three ways. This is a pre-writing exercise; I provided students with the following examples:
Basic - Journalistic “In Goose Pond, which lay in my way, a colony of muskrats dwelt, and raised their cabins high above the ice, though none could be seen abroad when I crossed it” (Thoreau 255). In another section of Walden, Thoreau talks about being on a frozen lake and dropping his axe into a hole in the ice, cutting a long branch, fixing a noose and hauling it up and out again. These entries are general reporting about something you saw or did.
Challenging - Poetic “A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. The fluviatile trees next to the shore are the slender eyelashes which fringe it, and the wooden hills and cliffs around it are its overhanging brows” (Thoreau 176). These entries report, however they go one step further by using devices like personification, metaphor, unique sensory language, etc. 

Advanced - Philosophical “…I saw a striped snake run into the water, and he lay on the bottom, apparently without inconvenience, as long as I staid there, or more than a quarter of an hour; perhaps because he had not yet fairly come out of the torpid state. It appeared to me that for a like reason men remain in their present low and primitive condition; but if they should feel the influence of the spring of springs arousing them, they would of necessity rise to a higher and more ethereal life” (Thoreau 38). These entries can be journalistic and /or poetic while also reflecting on human nature.

My students' work has been incredible. They have proven to be very gifted photographers (they almost all have smartphone cameras), and very insightful writers. I ordered each student a paperback copy of Walden, which we are now reading in class.