Monday, December 10, 2012

Fall 2012 Feedback

I gave the students in my ENG 202.210 class a chance to offer some direct feedback to me today.  We had a nice conversation, and there are some things that I hope to take away from the talk for application in later terms.

Written feedback (I had students fill out brief forms) let me know that I need to do two things, particularly.  The first is to clarify the explanations I give of assignments, particularly as they appear on the website and as they pertain to the first assignment: the standard email with attached memorandum.  As I noted during the class meeting, I am sketchy on the website so as to encourage class attendance, but, as I look back over what was submitted, perhaps I do need to tighten up what I offer there.  One or two students commented that doing so during the classroom explanation of the assignment is also likely to help.

The second is to secure more student assignments as examples.  I did note to the students the ethical (and sometimes legal) concerns involved in doing so, but I did accept their reasoning; they find it easier to understand the work of their peers than the examples I create and post.  The students did note that they wanted mine to remain up, but that having the divergent perspective was illuminating.  I can understand the position, and I will work in future terms to secure more student examples.  I may also do a small bit in the few remaining days of this term, so as to get things going.

Oral feedback (I did say we had a nice conversation) more or less reflected what was in the written feedback.  There were more complaints about other faculty in the spoken work than the written, though; I entertain it because students do have a right to air their grievances (particularly when I ask about what has gone poorly), although I do insist that they not use my colleagues' names.  Professional courtesy requires it.

I expect that I will have more to say regarding feedback and my reflections on the term's work in the coming days and weeks.  And I am going to be revising my syllabi extensively to reflect what I find in that feedback and what I continue to learn from my own ongoing reading and research.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Students in ENG 099, be advised that the dates of the end-of-term exam have changed.  They have moved to the week of 10-14 December, and the assignments normally scheduled for that week are switched to the week previously assigned to the exam.  Due dates for the portfolio and library assignment are unchanged.

Please email me at if there are any questions.  Please include your course and section in the subject line of the email.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Another Announcement Regarding Calendars

Students, please be advised that course calendars have changed once again in response to directives from school administration.  Please go the appropriate page for your affected course and print out the most current version of your course's calendar.  Courses affected appear below:

ENG 099.125
ENG 099.130
ENG 101.117
ENG 202.210
HUM 110.122

Other course calendars are not affected; no further changes have taken place as of this time, 1247pm on 19 November 2012.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Announcement: Calendar Updates

Students, in keeping with stated TCI policy and directives from the administration, course schedules have changed; course calendars have updated to suit.  Please check to see if your section has been affected.  More information will follow as it becomes available.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Announcement: Course Calendars

Students, be advised that the course calendars posted to the course website (here) have been updated to reflect information current as of approximately 10:30am on Tuesday, 6 November 2012.  The ad hoc updates posted to this blog yesterday have been incorporated into them.  Please discard old copies and provide yourselves with new ones from the website.

Be well, and I will see you in class.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Announcement: More Course Calendar Updates

Students, please be advised that more updates on course calendar adjustments are forthcoming.  In the meantime, however, note the following by class.  Only the changes listed will be in effect; no other changes are in place at this time, approximately 1:10pm on Monday, 5 November 2012.

ENG 099.125
~Midterm Exam is moved to 6 November 2012.
~Journal Entries and Essay Draft assigned for 6 November 2012 are canceled.
~Readings assigned for 6 November 2012 are due 13 November 2012.  Please be diligent.

ENG 099.130
~Midterm Exam is moved to 7 November 2012.
~Essay Reading Exercise scheduled for 7 November 2012 is canceled.
~Readings assigned for 7 November 2012 are due 14 November 2012.  Please be diligent.
~Essay Draft assigned for 14 November 2012 is canceled.

ENG 099.150
~Midterm Exam is moved to 9 November 2012.The exam will be proctored by another TCI faculty member; attendance and grades will count as normal, so do not fail to attend.
~Essay Reading Exercise scheduled for 9 November 2012 is canceled.
~Readings assigned for 9 November 2012 are due 16 November 2012.  Please be diligent.

ENG 101.117
Information is as per the memorandum issued in class on 5 November 2012.
~Descriptive Definition is due via email before the beginning of class 12 November 2012.  Please go to the Learning Center for additional review, as I will still be going out of town for a conference this week and meeting times will be restricted.
~Exit Exam Practice on 12 November is deferred to 19 November.
~Contrast Argument peer review scheduled for 19 November is cancelled.

ENG 202.210
Information is as per the memorandum issued in class on 5 November 2012.
~Process Analysis and Evaluation is due via email before class begins on 12 November 2012.  Please go to the Learning Center for additional assistance, as I will still be going out of town for a conference this week, and meeting times are therefore restricted.

HUM 110.122
~Written Exam is moved to 6 November 2012.
~Memorized Speech is moved to 13 November 2012.  Grades will be assessed with the extra practice time in mind.
~Readings due 13 November 2012 may be discussed on 20 November 2012.
~All Manuscript Speeches will be delivered on 27 November 2012.
~All Extemporaneous Speeches will be delivered on 18 December 2012.

HUM 110.157
~Written Exam is moved to 9 November 2012.  The exam will be proctored by another TCI faculty member; attendance and grades will count as normal, so do not fail to attend.
~All Manuscript Speeches will be delivered on 7 December 2012.
~All Extemporaneous Speeches will be delivered on 21 December 2012.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Students, as you are doubtless aware, the school has been closed all week as a result of the storm and cleanup efforts.  This will require rescheduling and adjustment of classroom activities; I am trying to get information about institutional plans from my superiors, but communication is still spotty at the moment.

Pending additional information, students in the classses listed below, please proceed with coursework as though next week (5-9 November) has the activities listed for the week that was missed (29 October-2 November); that is to say, for the classes listed below, next week should be regarded as midterm exam week:
  • ENG 099: Basic Communications
  • ENG 101: Freshman Composition 1
  • HUM 110: Speech
For ENG 202: Technical Writing and Presentation, the missed week was one which had neither reading nor assignment listed.  At present, follow the course calendar as written, with the exception that the Process Analysis and Evaluation that was due Monday has been extended to Wednesday, 7 November 2012; take the time to get to the Learning Center if you have not done so.

Students who had appointments to meet with me, please email to reschedule.  Time will be tight, since I am still obliged to fly out for a conference on Wednesday afternoon, but when I can meet with you, I will.

Please watch for additional updates.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Students, please be advised that school has been cancelled for Monday and Tuesday, 29 and 30 October 2012.  We will reschedule classroom activities later.  Check or call 212-594-4000 for more information.

Stay safe, and I look forward to seeing you next week.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Students, please be advised that the course calendar for the Fall 2012 ENG 101.117 class has changed.  Please review the amended document here, and come prepared for the new assignment.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sample Descriptive Definition

Students, please find below an example of the kind of descriptive definition discussed here.  It offers a model of the kind of composition desired, if one on the short end of acceptable length (when formatted for submission as a paper, as discussed in "General Paper Formatting Instructions," here, and as distinct from how the piece is formatted for inclusion in the course blog).

Those who have been in my classes across several semesters know that I am fond of using riddles as a teaching device.  As I remark in "About Riddles," I find them useful for aiding students in developing skills in critical thinking and interpretation of evidence.  That they function so admirably in such a context is a result of the nature of riddles themselves, for a riddle is a verbal puzzle which relies upon tricks of language such as puns and figurative language to frustrate achieving easy solutions to it.  Among the more notable examples of riddles accessible to speakers of the English language are translations of the Oedipal Sphinx riddle; any of the riddles from the Exeter Book, such as Riddle 43; and the riddles in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit.

The riddle of the Sphinx faced by Oedipus as he made his way to mythological Thebes is firmly ensconced in the literary history of Western Europe and the cultures that have sprung from it.  As Edith Hamilton relates the story, the Sphinx was "a creature shaped like a winged lion, but with the face and breast of a woman" that "lay in wait for the wayfarers along the roads to [Thebes] and whomever she seized she put a riddle to, telling him if he could answer it, she would let him go.  No one could, and the horrible creature devoured man after man until the city was in a state of siege" (269).  The riddle that so stumped the people of mythological Greece, was simply to ask the name of that creature which goes four-legged in the morning, two-legged at noon, and three-legged in the evening; the answer is an average human person, who crawls on all fours in infancy, walks upon two legs in full adulthood, and leans on support such as a cane in old age (269).  Despite the sexist and ableist phrasing in the original and in Hamilton's rendition of it, the riddle is one of the best-known to speakers and readers of English, and it works against it audiences.

The riddle engages both puns and metaphorical language to frustrate those to whom it is posed.  The puns come in the loose interpretation of the term "leg."  It can be applied to the arms of a crawling infant only tangentially, for while there are broad similarities in bone and muscle structure between the arm and the leg, but they are substantially unalike--except when the term "leg" is used as a descriptor for a means of transport.  A similar zeugma comes into play in applying the term "leg" to the cane or walking stick used by an elderly person to aid in walking, although that is not the only one; "leg" can also be used to refer to the supporting post of an inanimate object such as a table or chair, so that for the three-legged elder, the "leg" is both locomotive and a prop.  The metaphor is much more straightforward, situating human life as the course of a day.  The comparison is apt in at least two ways.  The light of the sun is diminished at dawn and dusk and brightest in midday, much as human capacities tend to be less at the beginning and end of "natural" life than in the midst of it.  Too, human life is notoriously brief, and daylight does not last long.  The combination of the appropriate metaphor and the multivalent pun, both verbal devices, serve to occlude the name of the creature being described, making the Sphinx's utterance prototypical of a riddle.

That of the Sphinx is not the only long-established major example of a riddle.  The Exeter Book, one of the most important collections of Anglo-Saxon verse, contains a number of riddles, as well.  One of them, labeled by editors and commentators fairly unimaginatively as Riddle 43 (the Exeter Book itself does not give titles or numbers to them), has commanded a fair bit of attention, not least because its referential language lends itself to interpretation as an obscenity.  The piece, although sexist and heteronormative due in large part to the social standards of the time it was composed, does engage in a fair bit of verbal trickiness to lead its audience away from the actual solution; it reads:
I heard of something rising in a corner,
Swelling and standing up, lifting its cover.
The proud-hearted bride grabbed at that boneless
Wonder with her hands; the prince's daughter
Covered that swelling thing with a swirl of cloth. (Williamson)
The answer to the riddle is "dough," but it is hidden in layers of sexually-charged language which depends on heteronormative sexism for its effect.  For the Anglo-Saxons, the kitchen--which is where work with dough would be carried out--was typically the domain of the wife, with higher-ranking women not exempted from labor within it.  As those who have themselves worked with dough, or who have seen others work with dough, know, it rises or swells when left at room temperature or heated slightly, and it is often covered with cloth to keep things from getting into it that would be undesirable to have in baked goods.  Too, dough is a boneless substance, so that the description of it in the riddle is accurate.  But that description also has heavy sexual connotations which do rely on heteronormative ideas.  It is true that certain parts of the body composed of erectile tissue do raise pieces of cloth which cover them, and it is also true that, in a heteronormative society, a bride would be inclined to grab at one such organ, while a prince's daughter, presumably more refined and discreet given her familial position, would be like to preserve modesty by covering "that swelling thing."  So while the answer to the riddle is not itself inherently sexual, the riddle does prey upon the attention people willingly and frequently pay to sexuality to lead them away from its innocuous solution.

Old English riddles such as Riddle 43 inform those in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit; Tolkien was in his academic life a scholar of older Germanic languages, and among his duties as such a scholar was teaching Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University (Dougham).  The circumstances in which Tolkien's riddles are posed echoes those surrounding the riddle of the Sphinx; one of the participants in the game is subject to death for failure to respond adequately (73).  And like both Riddle 43 and the riddle of the Sphinx, the riddles posed in The Hobbit employ figurative language.  One notable example is the last posed by Gollum to Bilbo:
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down. (77)
Most notable of its figurative constructions is its couplet structure.  Although it lacks a firm meter, it is simply and plainly rhymed.  Such patterns as rhyme serve to unify elements across lines and to aid the ability to recall the piece.  The yoking together of devouring flowers, steel meal, and a town coming down (which words are the rhymed pairs) creates disturbing images that are likely to distract the audience from arriving at the solution.  Similarly, the references to eating--"devours," "gnaws," "bites," and "meal"--serve to remind the in-milieu audience of the riddle that he is in very real danger of being consumed by the figure posing the riddle, and one can hardly blame Bilbo for having trouble thinking when he fears being eaten in short order.  They also serve to put the audience in mind of teeth, and while it can be argued that the answer, "time," has teeth, it is only in a metaphorical--not a literal--fashion.  Pointing up the toothiness of the solution forces the audience to consider physicality, and since time does not have an existence within the three dimensions of the commonly understood physical, imposing a physical description serves to lead the audience away from the solution--as befits a riddle.

In all three cases, as in the many others, riddles display a playfulness with language and a willingness to deceive the audience without actually being untruthful; at no point do the riddles actually say things that are not accurate, although their careful manipulation of connotations through figurative language hides what would otherwise be obvious answers.  Having such a definition of riddles that accounts for their core activities, rather than the surface trappings of any one riddle, allows for the broadening of understanding of riddles and the application of the kind of analysis performed on riddles to other works that display similar features--and that will help develop knowledge of verbal cultures.

Works Cited
~Dougham, David. "Who Was Tolkien?" Tolkien Society, 2002. Web. 20 October 2012.
~Elliott, Geoffrey B. "About Riddles." Geoffrey B. Elliott's Teaching Blog., 11 October 2012. Web. 19 October 2012.
~Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New York: Warner Books, 1999. Print.
~Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine, 1982. Print.
~Williamson, Craig, ed. and trans. "Riddle 43." "Exeter Book Riddles." Broadview Anthology of British Literature. Vol. 1: The Medieval Period. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada; Broadview P, 2007. Print. 31.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sample Causal Paragraph

Students, please find below an example of a causal paragraph of the type discussed here.  The prompt it is addressing ought to be fairly obvious.  That it is somewhat facetious should also be fairly obvious.

Were I to gain a comic-book-style superpower, it would likely be that of greatly enhanced speed.  As it is, I am quite a busy person, cramming many activities into a day that seems to be getting ever shorter.  Consequently, I already operate at a fairly high rate, so super-speed would be a natural and sensible extension of what I already do.  Were it to happen, I would likely get yet more reading and writing done, both for classes and for my own endeavors; both are activities I already do, and I would probably continue on in them.  Certainly, I would perform better in the dojo; some of the problems I have with such techniques as iriminage come about as a result of my moving more slowly than I ought to for the technique to work well, which super-speed would eliminate.  And I would likely turn to evil.  It would happen gradually; I would make mistakes, being human, and would attempt to rectify them.  In doing so, I would--because I am convinced of my own rightness as a rule--begin to see myself as set apart and, because more powerful, more deserving of obedience.  From there, I would work to enforce obedience, using my super-speed to facilitate that work; being able to move very fast makes it very easy to enforce consequences upon people.  It would inevitably lead to my moral end ethical corruption, and that would not be good for the world.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

About Riddles

Across several semesters and levels of instruction (remedial, developmental, and mainstream freshman composition; sophomore-level genre writing), I have used riddles as a teaching device.  What I have tended to do is take riddles, either pre-existing as from the Exeter book or generated by me, and embed proofreading errors of the sorts I see in student papers into them.  The riddles, thus adjusted, are given to the students, who are directed to do three things with them:
  1. Proofread the text of the riddle, either via proofreader's marks or a corrected re-writing, so as to make it conform to the standards of edited academic American English as defined in the grammar handbooks included in the standard course textbooks.  Students are encouraged to make use of the reference guides to aid them in making the corrections.
  2. Offer a solution to the riddle.  Students are told that the "correctness" of the answer is not so important as what happens with whatever answer is given in the next part of the assignment.
  3. Explain how the solution to the riddle they provide fits all of the clues given in the text.  Even if the answer is not the "right" one, a sound explanation of how the evidence in the text supports the answer provided is appreciated.
I tend to take the work the students do on the riddles as quiz grades, and I tell the students truthfully that I only actually grade parts 1 and 3 of the assignment.  That is, I am interested in how well they proofread and how well they deploy evidence to support their ideas.  In doing so, I offer the students practice with the surface-level concerns that need addressing (partly for mutual intelligibility, partly because of institutional concerns in several of the classes) as well as the kind of argumentation that their writing in the classroom and critical engagement with the rest of their lives will require.  In brief, the riddles give the students the opportunity to practice many of the things that a writing class is supposed to teach, particularly as the curriculum at my current institution figures writing classes.

In past terms, students have tended to struggle with the work early in the semester, but improve throughout the term, until by the end of the course, they are doing fairly decently--and they appear to be deploying the skills so practiced in their more formal assignments.  I have therefore viewed my use of riddles as a successful teaching practice, and have continued to do it.

Sample Summary

As with several other examples of summaries, this is derived and adapted from another blog I maintain.

An article by Michelle LaFrance and Melissa Nicolas, "Institutional Ethnography as Materialist Framework for Writing Program Research and the Faculty-Staff Work Standpoints Project," appears in the September 2012 issue (64.1: 130-50) of CCC.  In the article, LaFrance and Nicolas discuss institutional ethnography (IE), a method for investigating how workplaces form themselves and situate the people who work in them, arguing that it is a valuable means for interrogating institutional practices that are often overlooked. They outline the ways in which IE works to point out how institutional practices differ for people who perform different functions within an organization; they call it situated variability. To do so, they give a brief overview of the history of IE and of its undergirding concepts before situating it in relation to already-existing methodologies. Throughout, they deploy examples from their own experiences within institutions, using them to develop a particular ethos that speaks well to the common audience of the journal, and making the article a particularly effective call to use IE as another tool for those involved in the teaching of writing to look into how the context in which they teach influences the teaching they do.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sample Process Paragraph

Students, please find below an example of the kind of process paragraph discussed in class and here.  The topic will, I think, be obvious.

Making coffee in a press is simple.  Doing so first requires gathering the following materials: a press, a kettle, water more than sufficient to fill the press, a convenient heat source such as a stove, coarse-ground coffee, a standard-sized coffee scoop or a teaspoon, and at least one coffee cup.  Once the materials are gathered, the water should be poured into the kettle and the kettle set upon the stove; turn on the stove under the kettle so as to heat the water until it boils.  While the water heats, open the press and insert the coffee.  Typically, one standard-sized scoop of ground coffee or two heaping teaspoons of it will suffice for every coffee-cup full of water being boiled; adjust to suit the size of the press you are using.  After the coffee is added, wait until the water in the kettle boils.  At that point, remove the kettle from the stove, turn off the stove, and pour the boiling water into the waiting, coffee-loaded press.  Then return the lid of the press to the body of the press, but do not push the plunger down into the press until at least ten minutes have passed, as the coffee will need to steep at least that long.  Once it has steeped ten minutes or more--adjust to suit the drinker's taste--depress the plunger as far as it will go down into the press and pour the hot coffee into the waiting cup.  There will likely be some silt from the coffee grounds in the bottom of the cup, but there will also almost certainly be excellent, strong coffee in the cup which is well worth drinking.


Students, please be advised that, due to the schedule shift, I will not be holding regular office hours today, 10 October 2012.  Please email me at to make an appointment.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sample Descriptive Paragraph

Students, please find below an example of a descriptive paragraph of the type noted during lectures and here.  It does not address any specific prompt directly, other than to present an example of a descriptive paragraph.

In the Texas Hill Country, early spring is wildflower season.  In years when the rains have come, the sides and medians of roads and highways, the banks of rivers, and the few places where grass grows freely between the scrubby oaks and cedars upon the limestone hills where the coastal plains rise up into the Edwards Plateau explode into a riot of glorious color.  Reds, golds, oranges, and the lusciously white-capped blues of the Texas bluebonnet erupt almost overnight from the green places.  In the early morning hours, as the sun rises and shades the partly cloudy sky with royal purples and golds, noble reds, festive pinks, and a thousands hues of blue, those many people already upon the long and well loved roads in the open spaces that still remain between the sprawling cities see that the narrow ribbons of smooth asphalt upon which they race from place to place become bridges amidst the heavens themselves.  For the abundance and density of colors among the plants upon which the new-risen sun shines are mirrored only in the lightening morning sky--and in the dying evening, when the sun retires in splendor, and again the boundaries between the earth and sky are blurred as the eye follows the flower-bordered road off into the distance.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sample Narrative Paragraph

Students, the paragraph below is an example of what is discussed here.  It addresses the prompt "Write a narrative paragraph illustrating some moment in your life, either experienced or observed."

I was standing on the open-air platform, waiting for my train in the cold.  It was pulling in, and I noticed that in the front car, there was a long bench that seemed to have no people on it, although there were many people standing in the car.  I had lived in New York City long enough by then to know that there was something wrong with the seat, and so I made not attempt to find my way to it.  Instead, I made for the second car, which was not so crowded.  But it seemed that the problem had decided to make itself mine, for  right behind me staggered into the car a reeking, filthy figure of a man.  He careened towards a seat that was already filled--fortunately not by me--and screamed obscenities at the tiny, elderly woman who was sitting there.  She started, yelping almost as a dog that has been kicked in the night by a sleep-fogged bathroom-seeker.  The man barked out a laugh and whipped around to scream again in the face of another, repeating the process again and again until a space had opened up around him and he could plop himself flaccidly onto the pale plastic bench, snickering at the aghast faces surrounding him.  There he remained until the next stop, when, smiling, he left the car to work his will again.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sample Narrative Essay

Students, please find below an example of a narrative essay of the sort discussed here.  The example is on the high end of the requested length, when formatted for submission (which blog entries tend to prohibit; venue matters).  It addresses the prompt of the Fall 2012 term at TCI, which is to relate an incident in the writer's life or experience in such a way that it puts across a moral message or prescribes a pattern of behavior.  That which my piece recommends is fairly obvious--and to be expected from someone who teaches English, I think.

The week before, the forty students enrolled in American Literature I, a class focused on the writings of the United States and its forebears from the American Civil War and earlier, had turned in their papers.  The assignment had been to select a work not covered in the class but which derived from the time and area under study and to craft a critical argument about it, one employing at least one reputable outside source and containing a counter-argument (a line of argument somehow contradictory of the writer’s own thesis) and a rebuttal (a line of argument that undermines or overthrows the counter-argument).  All of the students in the sophomore-level survey were supposed to have passed two semesters of first-year composition.  They were supposed to have been able to put together thesis statements, to find and employ evidence, to explain how that evidence serves to support the thesis—in short, to construct arguments.  They were supposed to have demonstrated that they could carry out basic revisions of their work, ensuring that sentence flowed into sentence and paragraph into paragraph, that the words being used were those which ought to have been used rather than the most ornate and Latinate words available, and that the phrasings used in their papers were original unless clearly signaled as quotations.  They were supposed to have demonstrated a basic command of the conventions of standard edited academic American English, proofreading their papers at least once to ensure that their own names were spelled correctly and the titles of the works they referenced were treated as they ought to be.

When the papers were graded, however, they revealed that either most of the students had not been taught what they ought to have been or that they had forgotten what they had once learned.  Some discussed texts far removed from the area being studied, trying to use romance novels published in the twenty-first century to fill in for what should have been works written in the seventeenth through the nineteenth.  Others failed to include even a primary source, let alone an outside piece of criticism, or to produce a thorough argument.  Still others, fortunately few, thought to look online for papers that had already been written and submit them as their own.  Yet others were jerky and disjointed, the sentences within paragraphs having no real relationship to one another and the paragraphs not even attempting to connect among themselves.  One prominent example piled trite statements atop bombast atop cliché, vomiting multi-syllabic words onto the page in the hopes of hiding the fact that the paper said nothing about anything.  Nearly all, though, had shown that they had not taken the time to ensure that even their own names were spelled correctly, let alone that the titles of their works were handled well and that the other mechanics in their papers were even close to correct.

When the instructor read the first, the assumption was that one student had done poorly, and while it is hardly pleasant to begin a session of grading with an inferior piece of work, one student erring among forty is to be expected.  It is never the case that every student in the class does well on every assignment offered.  And when the second paper came up with as bad a grade as the first, and for many of the same reasons, it added to the frustration but did not elicit concern.  But when the third, the fourth, the fifth, the tenth, the twentieth, the thirty-seventh all made many of the same mistakes—mistakes that not even students in remedial English at the same university made—especially when the students who had written the papers had stressed again and again that they understood the assignment and had no questions, a deep and abiding anger grew up.  Having been misinformed, having had to read dozens of badly-written papers from students who ought to have known better—from students who had shown in discussion that they did know better—kindled a cold rage which chilled the room when, on the day appointed, the papers were returned.

Normally, the class would begin jovially, with those in the room chatting openly and laughing together, establishing the classroom as a site of enjoyment and the work done in it as a pleasurable thing.  But on that day, as the instructor entered, it was as if the light and warmth of the Southern spring had been drained out of the room.  For the instructor sat behind the desk for some minutes, not moving, not speaking.  The students, several of whom were attentive to such things, feared that something was wrong, for the instructor usually bounced into the room, a dynamo of energy for the material and those who had signed up to learn about it, rather than the icily silent glaring hulk that brooded behind the desk.

Their fears were realized when, as the official start time of the class came, the instructor looked up at the students.  In a low voice and from between clenched jaws came the words: “I’ve taught remedial English.  I’ve taught high school English.  I’ve even taught middle school English.  The papers you turned in to me are far and away the worst I have seen.  That you even thought these were close to acceptable is an insult, and you should be ashamed to have wasted my time and yours with…this.”  A scornful wave at the stack of papers on the desk, their pages almost dripping with red ink, was followed by more: “You have a week to fix these, and you had damned well better avail yourselves of it.  Get your crap off my desk and get out of my classroom.”

Without a word and without meeting the instructor’s eyes, the students grabbed their papers and made their way away from where the instructor sat seething.

The next week, the papers were better by far.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sample Descriptive Paragraph

The paragraph below answers the prompt "Describe your favorite thing in such a way as to indicate that it is your favorite."

My favorite thing is my bookshelf at home.  It is not a single construct, but a composite, built of several store-bought shelving units in white particle board and several more lengths of planking held to the wall by brackets.  I built the planking-shelves with my own hands years ago in cascades of sweet-smelling sawdust amidst the cries of saw blades and exultations of drill bits.  Both store-bought and hand-made shelves swell with the weight of hundreds of thousands of pages of books, collecting the wisdom and delight of centuries of the written word in English and other languages.  Although they remain fast to the wall and rooted to the floor, my bookshelves open many doors, their solid frames giving way to winds fragrant with old ink and the pencil-scrawled comments of generations of readers.  The gentle creaking of their boards as books enter and leave them bespeaks the ancientry of that of which they tell, rooting me in history even as the shelves are fixed and fixtures in my home, the focal point to which my guests' eyes are directed, and the source of what I am able to do in the work I love. 

Sample Summary

Students, please find here a sample of the kind of summary that I want you to write, as discussed here. For some of you, the article will be familiar, as at least one of my classes has received it.

On 20 September 2012, Daniel W. Drezner's "Why Presidents Love Foreign Affairs" appeared in the online New York Times.  In the article, Drezner asserts that, because so much of the presidential duty is concerned with foreign affairs, voters ought to attend to candidates' stances on overseas concerns much more than they do.  Instead, Drezner notes, voters pay attention to candidates' statements about domestic economy, a concern which is not the president's alone, but is heavily influenced by Congress.  Drezner also notes that presidential missteps in foreign policy can have drastic consequences in terms of lives and financial outlay that cannot be recovered.  He makes a successful case for having voters pay more attention to foreign policy statements, aided by his conversational tone throughout the article.

Sample Summary

Students, please find here a sample of the kind of summary that I want you to write, as discussed here. For some of you, the article will be familiar, as at least one of my classes has received it.

On 20 September 2012, the editors of the New York Times published "Season of Mists, if Not in Manhattan" in the online version of the newspaper.  In the article, the editors lament the lack of a specific form of autumnal weather: morning fog.  They outline the processes by which the fog forms and note that the conditions necessary for its generation no longer exist in New York City's central borough.  They successfully express a sense of nostalgia and longing for a feature of the natural world now absent from one of the most heavily urbanized places on the planet.

Sample Summary

Students, please find here a sample of the kind of summary that I want you to write, as discussed here. For some of you, the article will be familiar, as at least one of my classes has received it.

On 18 September 2012, Peter Applebome's "At a Campus Scarred by Hazing, Cries for Help" appeared in the online New York Times.  In the article, Applebome discusses the efforts of Binghamton University to address issues of student hazing.  He notes that the problem of hazing has been amply reported in the past, but little had been done at Binghamton to correct the problem; part of the inaction derives from a supposed dearth of allegations by victims of hazing.  Applebome reports that, although there are some efforts being made to reduce or eliminate hazing from Binghamton, they are inconsistent and not likely to be effective.  He succeeds in depicting hazing as a persistent problem that casts a pall over a member of the State University of New York system.

Sample Summary

Students, please find here a sample of the kind of summary that I want you to write, as discussed here.  For some of you, the article will be familiar, as at least one of my classes has received it.

On 2 October 2011, Dominique Molina's "Conquering My Fear of Speaking in Public" appeared in the New York Times, as recorded by Patricia R. Olsen.  In the piece, Molina notes that an unforced authenticity is her key to doing well at public speaking tasks.  She notes that she had not thought she would have to engage in them, but was surprised to be obliged to do so as part of her duties as a business partner.  Molina also remarks that in her initial foray into public speaking, she attempted to engage in theatrics, only to have them go badly and result in her shame.  Later attempts, she recounts, relied heavily on scripting and were not engaging as a result.  On advice from her father, Molina states, and after significant amounts of practice, she has grown comfortable in her own knowledge of her subject matter and is able to hide a nervousness that she yet feels.  She offers in the piece a successful anecdotal recounting of her own experience negotiating the task of public speaking, providing thereby one model that may be of help for those who face a similar challenge.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I received an email this morning.  As I have discussed before (here and here, among others), I do a fair bit of research work in addition to and in support of my teaching, much of which takes the form of conference presentations.  When discussing course calendars, I make note of when I will be away for conference work, and I comment (I well remember) that conference travel is nice work when it can be gotten.

I am going to get to do a bit more conference travel, it seems.

I received an email today which tells me that an abstract I submitted in response to the call for papers from the 2013 International Congress on Medieval Studies has been accepted.  Once again, I will be heading off to Michigan in May to give a talk about something about which I know a fair deal--and I will do so knowing more about it than I do now.

It is possible (although I make no promises in this regard) that I will use my work on the Congress paper as a model for paper development in my classes.  I am not about to offer sections of it here (that would actually be a breach of etiquette, since conference research is supposed to be original and not before published), but it does offer me the opportunity to engage, directly and intimately, in the writing processes I discuss with my students once again.  I will be able to reconnect with the kinds of things my students face in the assignments I offer them, and that ought to aid me in discussing things with them in what I hope will be a helpful fashion.


Due to the faculty convocation, I will not have regular office hours today, 19 September 2012.  Next week, due to advising, I will be meeting with students in Room 3005 at the 56th Street campus.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Announcement: Update

Students, please be advised that, due to the receipt of new information, the course calendar for ENG 101: Freshman Composition 1, Section 117, has been revised.  The updated calendar is available for download at the course website, here.

Hard copies of the revised calendar will be distributed in class during the first meeting, as planned.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Students, please be advised that Fall 2012 syllabi and course calendars are going up on the course website.  Links below connect to the relevant pages; please be sure you get the course calendar from the correct section of your class:

ENG 099: Basic Communications
ENG 101: Freshman Composition 1
ENG 202: Technical Writing and Presentation
HUM 110: Speech

I hope that you find them useful references.  I hope also that I will not need to change many things.

Monday, September 10, 2012

More on Teaching Philosophy

Quite some time ago, I mentioned that I was engaged in revising my statement of teaching philosophy.  I have had occasion to work on it and review it a bit recently, for reasons that will remain private for now, and I am reminded, as the Fall 2012 term is about to begin at the school where I teach, that it is frequently helpful for me to discuss my own thoughts and understandings as I try to get students to develop their own.*

I remain convinced that if there is no challenge, there is no reason to improve, and the improvement of the self is the reason behind education, formal and informal.  Even an online satirist is aware of the latter, although he couches his assertions...indelicately.**  Although, as I know and have noted, many of my students are not convinced of the utility of what I teach--mostly rhetoric and composition, despite my academic background being mostly in literature--their lack of conviction does not negate the truth.  For we are all engaged in telling stories and in presenting arguments, and it behooves us all to be able to do so convincingly.  Too, we are all presented with stories and arguments seeking to compel our beliefs and actions, and it is incumbent upon us to be able to understand and analyze them so as to be able to reject those which are made poorly or are based upon bad ideas.

Thus, while it is perhaps true that my students will not ever have to compose a formal essay after leaving my classes, and they may never be positioned such that they are in direct opposition to another person in a debate, they will have to convince their bosses that they deserve to keep their job--and maybe that they even deserve a raise.  They may have the misfortune of being in a position to have to convince a jury of their peers that they are innocent of wrongdoing, or the similar misfortune of having to convince a jury of someone else's that they have themselves been wronged.  They may be in a position to be asked to do a thing that they find somewhat questionable, and so they will have to decide if the cost is worth the benefit.  Many will find themselves needing to impart lessons to the young without making the overt statement that so often prompts resistance.  Some of them will seek to prevail upon another person to give them the time and opportunity to fall in love with them.  None of these are insignificant concerns, and all of them are aided and abetted by deploying the skills my assignments teach and of which they foster practice.

Those assignments offer a relatively low-risk laboratory for those skills.  The worst that can happen to a student in my class as a result of the assignments is that the student gets a bad grade--and, in many cases, that grade can be brought up.  It is a far lesser consequence than erring in the "real-life" applications of those skills outside the classroom, and so it seems to me that students are well-served to be well and truly challenged in the classroom.

*Lad Tobin's Opinion piece, "Self-Disclosure as a Strategic Teaching Tool: What I Do--and Don't--Tell My Students," from College English 73.2 (November 2010: 196-206) comes to mind as one resource related to discussing one's own personal engagement with the subject matter being taught.  Mark Edmundson's "Against Readings" in Profession (2009: 56-65) springs to mind, as well.  So, too, does much of the training in teaching I received as an undergraduate and a graduate student.  It is not formal citation, I know, but it should suffice in a piece of writing so informal as a blog to account for whence some of my ideas derive.

**I make a point of trying to invoke current and popular media in my teaching and examples, as noted here, here, and occasionally here, among others.  Sometimes, my sources use naughty words.  Then again, so do major authors such as Shakespeare and Twain...

Thursday, August 30, 2012

To Begin the Fall 2012 Term

It has been a while since I last posted to this blog, it seems, and with good reason.  I did not teach over the summer, after all, taking some time off for the first time in some years.  But I am back now, and I will be teaching at TCI this fall.  As such, I offer the following comments:

First, I have my teaching schedule.  In the Fall 2012 term at TCI, I will be teaching three sections of ENG 099, one section of ENG 101, one section of ENG 202, and two sections of HUM 110.  This is a bit different a distribution than has been true for me in the past, and some of the courses are changing.  Updates to the relevant pages on my teaching website are therefore still forthcoming.  I will likely post announcements about them as they happen.

Second, I will be performing more in the way of collegiate service during the term.  Some of the specifics are not up for public discussion.  At least one set of them is, however; I am chairing a special session at the 2012 South Central Modern Language Association conference in San Antonio, Texas.  I look forward to it, and while I will be away from TCI to do my work at the conference, I will leave materials behind me for my students to do.  So, dear students who read this, do not feel as though I am neglecting you.  Even did I not leave stuff behind me for you to practice those skills we discuss in classes, I learn much from conferences, and so I come back from them with more to teach you.

Third, I look forward to working with my new sets of students.  I do hope that some of the changes and some of the things I am trying out in my teaching this term will help students to learn better--and me, too.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

About Negative Evaluations

The academy--that is, the totality of the practicing and aspirant scholars involved in formal schooling--has two primary purposes: the dissemination and development of knowledge.  Both are necessary, as knowledge is of no value if it is not shared, but without the development of knowledge, there ceases to be something which can be shared.  It is therefore the duty of all scholars to work towards both ends--even if it is all too often the case that one is neglected in favor of the other.

I strive to perform both of the scholar's duties, to teach and to uncover more to be taught.  It is a commonplace that the latter informs the former, that by doing research in the literary humanities I increase my own base of knowledge, which I can then pass on to my students.  The type of knowledge gleaned, however, is not always of the expected sort, as I was reminded this morning.

As part of my work to develop new knowledge, I write papers (much as I ask my students to do).  As part of my work to disseminate that knowledge, I try to get those papers published.  That means that I have to send the paper out so that other people can read it and evaluate it for its form, its content, and a few other factors that vary by the publisher (again, much the same thing that I ask of my students, if on a slightly different scale).  A bit more than a year ago, I sent out a paper; today, I got an email saying that the paper had been rejected.

Not "Fix this up and we'll take it," but more like "No, it's not getting published."

I was not entirely pleased to find in the email what I found (again, as is often the case with my students when they receive my comments).  I have never excelled at accepting criticism gracefully, and, like many others, I do not like being told that something into which I put some effort does not suffice.  How unfortunate, then, that the world little concerns itself with my likes and dislikes.

After thinking on the email and the paper for a while, however, I was able to get far enough away from my initial emotional reaction to consider what the comments were actually saying.  The first thing was that they were discussing the paper and not the writer; it was my work, not myself, that was being evaluated.  Since it is the case that even the great ones err in the areas of their greatness, it is no shame to me that one individual effort was found lacking; it simply means that I must learn more and work harder.  I can hope that my students can come to the same realization for their own efforts.

The second was a reminder of something that I tell my own students.  For in the paper, I had performed a close reading of a particular poem.  That is to say that I went through the poem, line by line, and laid out its features of rhythm, rhyme, and syntax.  Doing so left me with several pages of details, which I gathered together in coherent prose, complete with appropriate citations, sound transitions, and all the adherence to the conventions of academic American English that could be asked.  What I lacked was something to do with the detail.  I got so caught up in picking out the small bits of information that I neglected to employ them for an end beyond themselves.  Thus the paper was incomplete despite its merits and despite butting right up against the maximum acceptable word count, so that it deserved the evaluation it received.

My knowledge developed as a result of my writing and submitting the paper.  I do have a much better understanding of the features of the poem about which I wrote, which is good.  Better, though, is that I have something teachable (even while I am on leave): at times, a solid, well executed effort just is not enough to meet the requirements of a given task.  That does not mean, however, that no good comes of the effort, and it does not mean that the person who makes the effort is of no value.  It just means that the person has not succeeded...yet.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sample Summary

William H. Green's "King Thorin's Mines: The Hobbit as Victorian Adventure Novel" was published in Extrapolation 42.1 (Spring 2001: 53-64).  In the article, Green asserts that Tolkien's children's book The Hobbit partakes of a long tradition of juvenile novel commonly associated with Stevenson's Treasure Island, largely because it closely mimics H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines.  Green explicates a number of textual parallels to support his thesis, including the socio-economic status of the protagonists, their marital status, and a number of specifics of plot and milieu.  Green is not always wholly accurate in his parallels, however.  In one example, he asserts that Tolkien's Bilbo Baggins is an old man, while Tolkien makes clear that Baggins is instead in early middle age.  In another, Green draws a parallel between Tolkien's depiction of Thorin and Company's encounter with the trolls and Haggard's recounting of danger from elephants; it is not as clear a textual parallel as a number of his other examples.  Those other examples, though, admirably support Green's key point that Tolkien borrows much from Haggard, leaving the article a solid piece of scholarship.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Sample Summary

As with a few previous examples of summaries, this one has been excerpted and adapted from another blog I maintain.

Joan DeJean's "A Long Eighteenth Century? What Eighteenth Century?" which appears in the March 2012 issue of PMLA, bemoans the increasing presentism of foreign language departments in the United States.  DeJean does not claim any scientific rigor or statistical validity, simply noting that "Enough of a trend emerged" from those surveyed for the author "to feel that it was time to sound an alarm" (317). The alarm derives from the increasing dearth of new hires--and of faculty positions generally--in period specializations in pre-modern non-English languages, although Italian manages to hold onto its "holy trinity--Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio" (317), and Spanish, because of other factors, has enough enrollment to keep its variety to some extent (318). Even so, DeJean paints a depressing picture, one which forebodes ill for the study of language in the United States.

Presentism /prĕz'ĭnt*ĭzm/ (n.)- focus on the present and near past (within the last fifty to one hundred years), to the exclusion of earlier events

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sample Summary

The following is excerpted and slightly adapted from another blog I maintain.

In Gail Collins's 27 April 2012 New York Times piece "A Very Pricey Pineapple," the author reminds readers about the massive economic underpinnings of the various educational "reforms" that have been pushed through in the past decade or so. Collins points out that a few companies are making quite a bit of money from the emphasis on standardized testing in the executions of the tests themselves as well as in the production of textbooks to suit the tests and even schools and teaching programs in which to embed the whole thing.  By bringing out the pineapple imagery, she links edu-business to the absurd, offering an effective satire on the institution and calling therefore for a change to it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring 2012 Semester Commentary

This is the final week of the Spring 2012 term at Technical Career Institutes, after which I will be on leave until the fall.  I do look forward to having the time off, which I will be using to travel around the United States and across the Atlantic to Ireland and the United Kingdom, but I find that I will miss some of what I have had here this term.

That is not to say that I will miss all of it.  Some things about this term I am glad to see go by.  One of them is the catastrophically high failure rate in my freshman composition classes--and it is not the result of poor performance so much as no performance.  Every semester, the students who fail my classes do so predominantly from simply not turning in work; they are bright and capable, but do not submit assignments.  It is not even that they turn work in late; they simply do not turn work in.  And this semester has been particularly bad for that.

I always wonder what I could have done to prompt better submission rates.  I am not going to step down the rigor with which I conduct my classes; that would not be helpful in the least, as I have mentioned from time to time.  But it confuses me that, given my penchant for assigning work that students can use their media activities (movies, television shows, video games, comic books, and music, so far) to complete the work, I do not see more submitted.

I will miss some of my students from this term.  Although I did have to deal with some who were objectionable, and I had to endure seeing so many falter when they need not have done so, I had a fair number of intelligent, engaged, and interested people in my classes.  More students can well be like that, although I realize that doing so is not easy; much serves to make unpalatable the expression of curiosity and willingness to try out new ideas that undergird being a good student, and I know that many of my students see no point in becoming good students.  They are out to get passed through with their credentials so that they can go and do what they think they want to do; they do not realize that there are other things, things which might not initially appear to be worth doing but, upon investigation, are well worth undertaking.*

Some of my students have come to realize it this term.  And I am glad to have been among those who helped them do so.  It is that gladness that makes me just a bit sad as I shake my students' hands and send them on their merry ways, done with my class and my students no more--at least, until the fall.

*I do not mean by this to say that the kinds of things for which my students are trained by their coursework at Technical Career Institutes are not worthwhile.  I have worked with my hands before, and I well know the satisfaction that comes with actually building a thing.  I know also the satisfaction that comes with moving only a little and seeing another person's full momentum set aside as if it is nothing.  But there is a great glory in looking at a text and seeing in it multiple levels of meanings; it enriches my understanding of the world, and so I am able to participate the more fully in that world.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sample Summary

Tim William Machan's "Chaucer and the History of English" appears in Speculum 87.1 (January 2012: 147-75).  In the article, Machan asserts that Chaucer's place as the focal point of traditional histories of English is predicated on a flawed perception of his representativeness of a coherent Middle English.  He situates the tendency as one beginning even among Chaucer's immediate successors, and remarks on the long history of critics of English as a language citing Chaucer as their major point of reference.  Machan points out as a primary proof of the instability of Chaucer as a foundation for understanding of what "Middle English was really like" (to paraphrase loosely) the inconsistency of use of the second-person personal pronoun.  His analysis asserts that Chaucer's usage of different numbers in that pronoun does not seem to conform to a grammatical principle, and so understandings of the character of Middle English grammar based on Chaucer's usage are necessarily suspect.  While he does admit to the restrictions of his study, Machan does well at pointing out what he purports to point out, and his well-written article indicates a promising field of inquiry for other scholars.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Students, I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation, "The Establishment of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur as the Standard Text of English-Language Arthurian Legend," today.  This completes the course of study for the PhD.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sample Longer Paper

Students, below appears an example of the six- to eight-page longer paper, discussed on the course website here.  In this case, it is derived from the earlier contrast paper, although you are not obliged to expand upon your own contrast papers to put yours together.  When formatted as it ought to be for submission as a paper--which it is not on the blog--it is of a good length for submission.

As in previous semesters, I color-code to highlight various parts.  The text brought straight over from the earlier version appears in white, as it did before.  New material in support of my thesis is in blue.  The counter-argument and its materials are in red, while the rebuttal and its are in green.  Please do not color-code your own papers; I do so as a convenience for you.

The typifying features of good citizens are their normal adherence to and participation in the structures of public order coupled with a willingness to set aside those structures when they become unduly oppressive or otherwise untenable. Both Corran Horn from the Star Wars Expanded Universe and the Asimovian Hari Seldon are figured as good citizens by their respective authors. Of the two, however, Seldon is clearly the superior example of good citizenship.

Of course, there is not consensus that good citizenship is in something as simple as participating in public order while being willing to step outside of the structures that support it.  In one sense, criminals and villains--who are not normally considered good citizens--appear to be good citizens when good citizenship is measured by the rubric of participation in structures of public order and the willingness to set aside those structures.  Certainly, they fit the latter; crime is, by definition, a transgression of the prevailing social contract, a setting-aside of public order, so that criminals by their very criminality begin to adhere to at least one definition of good citizenship.  And in doing the latter, they can be argued to do the former.  One of the things that any structure requires to define itself is something in opposition to which to define itself; we know what we are as much by what we avoid as by what we do.  Criminals and villains provide a foil for public structure, and in so doing, they support those structures by giving them something against which to align.  So to label citizenship merely as participation in public structure coupled to willingness to step outside of it appears to be overly simplistic, and therefore a poor basis for judgment.

Appearance, however, is not necessarily truth.  Although it is true that by their actions, criminals and villains provide a useful focus for the structures of public order and therefore help to guide and focus them, such participation is not typically considered "normal," a status for which the earlier definition calls.  Also, being willing to step outside requires that there be a common state of being inside the structures, and criminals and villains are generally not regarded as being within the systems that they oppose.  And in any event, the definition of citizenship as participation in and selective exception from the structures of public order accords with a summary of definitions of citizenship reported in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Dominique Leydet, who labels citizenship as membership in a political community along with the assumption of the rights and duties thereto appertaining.  One of the duties commonly understood as attendant upon membership in a group is to work to maintain and enrich that group, which from time to time means that the group's practices and policies must be evaluated--which can only be done from outside.  There is thus a prevailing concept of citizenship that requires the ability to stand outside the system to support it.

There is admittedly no question that Corran Horn is a good citizen, thusly defined, in the Star Wars universe. Certainly, he participates actively and amply in the structures of public order across a significant span of time. His initial in-storyline appearance is as an officer of a local constabulary, one conducting an investigation into a kidnapping (Stackpole, Omnibus); as a member of the constabulary, he is necessarily a participant in the structures of public order, since it is in many respects law enforcement groups who are the primary points of interaction between the general populace and governmental structures. When he reappears in the story, he does so as a commissioned officer in the armed forces of the New Republic, one seeking entry into an elite unit (Stackpole, X-Wing 1-28); commissioning as an officer is a specific and somewhat rarefied recognition of status among the structures of public order, being a position of command in the vital maintenance of the public against external enemies. Both his positions and the actions he takes within them quickly assert his deep engagement with the structures of public order, showing him as willing to offer his skills and his life at some of the highest levels of performance and utility to an underpinning of public order. Some years of storyline after his attempt to enter an elite New Republic force, Horn is a ranking officer in that same force, showing that he has remained engaged with it in a substantially acceptable way (Stackpole, I 10). Horn’s ranking as a captain, and therefore position of command within an elite unit,  represents his display of significant ability in the support of public security and order, and therefore engagement with them.

Most importantly, Horn accepts his role as a Jedi, taking a place among "the foundation of stability in the galaxy" (Stackpole, I 482). In doing so, he lodges himself firmly as a member of the core proponents of order in the Star Wars universe, so that his involvement in the supporting structures of the public is absolute.  And he does more in that regard; he rises, in time, to the rank of Master in the Jedi order, speaking on behalf of the Jedi to various interplanetary governments (Allston 8).  In doing so, he displays himself as participating in high levels in the structures of public order, since diplomacy cannot be conducted absent those structures, and it is not carried out by the mean.  By occupying a position of command among the very underpinnings of public order, therefore, Corran Horn cements himself as a participant in them.

Just as there is no question of Horn’s participation in civic structures, there is no doubt the he does, at times, set aside his participation in them to serve other ends. During his constabulary service, he deliberately misleads an overseeing officer from higher governmental authority. Not much later, he participates in a firefight to protect people who are themselves engaging in illegal activities, not only protecting them, but also inflicting property damage on non-combatants and allowing those he protected to escape any consequences for their participation in illegal actions (Stackpole, Omnibus). In neither case does he adhere fully to what his participation in social structures would require--as a peace officer, he should not aid and abet illegal activity, and he certainly ought not to violate the rights of others in doing so--although in both cases his actions serve the greater good. The same is true of an incident in his service among the military elite of the New Republic--an outgrowth of an illegal rebellion whose legitimacy was still contested (Stackpole, X-Wing 99). In the incident, he effectively commandeers a squadron for a run on an enemy, a contravention of military protocol and in fact a violation of direct orders (Stackpole, X-Wing 229-35, 241-42). Even though charges against him for his breach of discipline are dropped (Stackpole, X-Wing 259-60)—itself something which smacks of a detachment from social structures, since the maintenance of public order requires that deviations from it be dissuaded, typically through punishment for transgressing—that they are brought is an indication that Corran Horn is willing to set aside the structures of public order, even though he more commonly is an avid supporter of them. Taken together, they validate him as a good citizen.

The Asimovian Hari Seldon, however, is a better citizen than is Horn. For instance, his participation in civil structures occurs at higher levels and is more varied than that of Horn, so that it can be spoken of as stronger. In Asimov’s Forward the Foundation, Seldon begins as the head of the mathematics department at a major research university in the governing seat of a galaxy-spanning empire (6-7). The position is one of some responsibility, not only in teaching--which is itself a significant civil structure, since it is through teaching that social structures are inculcated into new participants in them--but in research and in administration; it is itself an iteration of and privileged position within a social structure, so that Seldon’s tenancy in it situates him as participating in the structures of public order. Later in the novel, he is appointed from that position to the highest non-hereditary post in the empire, that of First Minister (112). In a very real sense, in his appointment as First Minister, he becomes the structure of public order, so that he necessarily is a powerful participant within it, and to a degree much greater than any warrior in service, however skilled the warrior or elite the cadre in which the warrior serves. Moreover, much later, Seldon serves as the founding editor of an encyclopedia described as being a comprehensive collection of the knowledge and understanding of the galactic empire (Asimov, Forward 456-61). The attempt to encapsulate the sum of a society’s knowledge for its preservation cannot be anything but an intimate engagement with the structures of public order, since public order is built upon a society’s knowledge of itself.

The encyclopedia Seldon founds serves as a cover for a deeper and more vital work of maintenance of the structures of public order.  The research he had done as a department head was directed towards that work, as well.  For Seldon had become aware that millennia of progress were being negated and much that was good being lost, with a dark age of thirty thousand years to follow the dozen or so millennia of stable society at the end of which Seldon stood (Asimov, Foundation 36-37).  The encyclopedia project served to hide a nucleus for the immense reduction of the scope of the dark age, a seed from which galactic civilization could regenerate itself in one thousand years instead of thirty times that many (93-96).  The system relies on his ability to predict future events with mathematical rigor, dealing in broad probabilities in a manner analogous to that in which the behavior of subatomic particles can be predicted en masse (Prelude 15); the system therefore relies on a stable foundation (if the pun may be pardoned).  By setting up a system which would allow the structures of public order which he had served to renew themselves in a thirtieth of the time it would otherwise take them to do so, Seldon makes of himself something of a messianic figure, one who comes to be in fact the focal figure for systems of public belief (Foundation 158; Edge 7, 16).  Even more than during his stint as First Minister, then, he is an embodiment of public order, making his participation in its structures manifest.

At the same time, Seldon is regarded as setting aside normal social conventions. Apart from common accusations that the professoriate is removed from public life or, worse, that it is aligned against civic structures, Seldon is viewed as a threat to public order.   In Prelude to Foundation, Seldon spends quite some time as a fugitive from Imperial officials, which is hardly an alignment with the usual standards of participation in civil structures.  Further, while on the run, he violates a number of the socio-cultural norms of the populations which agree to hide him.  Most notably, he violates the sanctity of the Mycogenian Sacratorium both in terms of entering it as an outsider and in bringing a woman where women are forbidden, which hardly rings of going along with cultural expectations, espeically since his doing so is a capital offense (237-41, 259-65).  The death penalty is not capriciously handed out, so that the assignment of it to Seldon serves as a marker of just how far he has stepped outside the normal bounds of good conduct in order to further his scholarly mission.  Certainly, he goes further outside of it than Horn, who is up for rebuke but not for any kind of major punishment by the society against which he transgresses--and a disciplinary rebuke is far less than execution, so that the latter indicates a more grievous offense.

Also, in Foundation, he is brought up on charges of treason, not least because he asserts from the knowledge given him by years of socio-mathematic study that the empire in which he lives and which he once served so prominently is doomed to die (31-38). As a result, he is exiled along with his followers to a world at the end of the galaxy, one appropriately named for being at the end of it (42). Whatever the reason for his making the assertion--and he is correct in making them, it must be admitted--the mere facts of his statements serve to undercut broad belief in the stability of social systems, so that in making the statements, Seldon is disengaging from the structures of public order. More than simply disobeying orders as Horn does, he is undermining confidence in the ability of society to endure, which is a much stronger detachment from the structures than is bucking the chain of command. Seldon therefore goes farther afield from the normal dictates of society than does Horn, even as he is more thoroughly engaged in those structures during his long life—even to the point of being a messianic figurearound whom systems of belief are built. He is therefore clearly a superior example of a good citizen.

That Seldon is the better image of good citizenship serves as a reminder that older works—and Asimov’s novels of Seldon are older than Stackpole’s works with Horn—yet have much to teach.  They provide useful standards for judgment yet, and so they ought not to be set aside blithely.

Works Cited
~Allston, Aaron. Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi--Outcast. New York: Del Rey, 2010. Print.
~Asimov, Isaac. Forward the Foundation. New York: Doubleday, 1993. Print.
~---. Foundation. New York: Bantam, 1991. Print.
~---. Foundation's Edge. New York: Del Rey, 1982. Print.
~---. Prelude to Foundation. New York: Bantam, 1991. Print.
~Leydet, Dominique. "Citizenship." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford U, 1 August 2011. Web. 5 March 2012.
~Stackpole, Michael A. Star Wars: I, Jedi. New York: Bantam Spectra, 1998. Print.
~---. Star Wars Omnibus: X-Wing Rogue Squadron. Vol. 3. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse, 2007. Print.
~---. Star Wars: X-Wing--Rogue Squadron. New York: Bantam, 1996. Print.