In a previous posting on “unteachable students” I included a brief portion of my course policies document from one of my composition classes where I use a Q&A style format to try to give context to the content and practices of the course.
Surprisingly, and to my mind, strangely, there was a fair bit of interest in this, maybe more than the larger message of the posting itself, so I’ve been convinced to include a fuller example of this kind of course policy document.
1. I make no warrants that this is a good way to do things. Though I do have fourteen years of classroom experience, and often read critical work in literature, composition, and creative writing pedagogy, I am no expert. What I do seems to work for me. Your mileage may vary.
2. I’m posting this in the interests of discussion, not to demonstrate my non-existent expertise. The development of my own practices and policies is an ongoing and ever-evolving process drawn not just from my experience, but from the knowledge and experience of others. The DNA of previous teachers and colleagues is all over this thing. I’m very interested in hearing from others how they tackle these issues.
3. I expect that some things I have to say will meet with some disagreement. Again, I would like to hear about different approaches, but the idea of us arguing with each other about who is doing it “right” and who is doing it “wrong” is completely uninteresting to me, and probably others.
4. The other post included material from a composition course. Because I still teach that course, and I don’t want my entire policies searchable on the Internet, I’m using one developed for a literature course that I’m unlikely to teach in the future. My hope is that the principles behind it are the same.
5. I’ve offered additional comments and annotations here and there in italics, led by my initials, JW.
6. This document is actually the basis for the first day discussion/activity for the course. At the start of class, I hand out the questions to the students, and they ask them in order. It’s goofy, but sort of fun. I usually speak extemporaneously, rather than reciting the text verbatim from the document, though the content is the same. They print off and read this document after the first class as a reinforcement of the material.
7. It’s very long, and possibly quite boring. Proceed at your own risk.
English 215: Contemporary Literature
JW: Boilerplate about sections and times and office hours removed for the sake of space. I also haven’t included the specific reading list because I changed it every time.
Frequently Asked Questions about English 215
Q: Who are you?
A: As the top of the syllabus notes my name is John Warner, and I am a native of Northbrook, IL, a northern suburb of Chicago, that is forever immortalized in the great John Hughes movies of the 1980’s (Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, etc…). I graduated from the University of Illinois in 1992 with a degree in Rhetoric, which is really just a fancy name for “writing.” After a couple of years of work in Chicago, I returned to graduate school at McNeese St. University (go Cowboys) in Lake Charles, LA, where I graduated with two degrees, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and an M.A. in English Literature in 1997. In addition to teaching I am a writer and have published several books and dozens of articles and stories. I also work as an editor of a daily humor-oriented website called McSweeney’s Internet Tendency (www.mcsweeneys.net).
This is my sixth year at Clemson, and while here I’ve taught writing and literature courses of all shapes and sizes. Prior to coming to Clemson I taught at the University of Illinois and Virginia Tech.
I am an Aries and enjoy long walks in the sand.
JW: As previously noted, I no longer work at Clemson. I include this background information because I want my students to be thinking about me as a specific human being (albeit of a teacher-type), rather than generic “professor.” I also use it to establish my “credentials” to teach the course. During discussion of this question during class, I often have fun making them guess what state McNeese St. is in. It usually takes a good 20 tries. The final line about “long walks in the sand” is a joke, and at the time, I’d never taken a long walk in the sand. I’ve since moved to a place proximate to beaches and do so at least once a week, and it turns out, I really do enjoy them.
Q: Why is the university making me take this course?
A: Let’s be fair. You don’t necessarily have to take this specific course. You could have chosen Eng 212 (World Literature), Eng 213 (British Literature), or Eng 214 (American Literature), all of which are survey courses on the major themes and progressions of literature that fall into those particular categories. In addition, I count no fewer than nineteen sections of English 215 (20th and 21st Century Literature), each of which is going to have a different reading list and approach to the subject, so when you say that someone is making you take this course, that isn’t exactly true. Is what you’re asking why you have to take a 200-level literature course at all?
A: Well, that’s a different thing requiring a long and involved discussion which we’re going to have in a future class, but let me give the bullet points here. There is a general long-held belief (back to the ancient Greeks and Romans and then renewed by The Enlightenment) that we as individuals, and indeed, as a society at large, benefit from being informed and engaged with the world around us, with the business of being, for lack of a better word, “human.” One of the ways we achieve this goal is the study of what it is to be human, our state of being, if you will. The courses that explore this are known, coincidentally enough, as “the humanities.” This course is one of your “humanities” requirements.
As a side note, it’s entirely possible that you will be the last cohort of students at Clemson University that will be required to take a literature course as part of your humanities requirement. If this comes to pass, it will be, not to mince words, tragic. For some reason we’ve decided that “training” is more important than education. One of my goals is to convince you (if you aren’t already) of the inherent value of engaging with art and literature and that a life without these things would be otherwise impoverished.
JW: The first two questions are to address what was a common attitude, which was a strong aversion to completing this particular course requirement. By acknowledging their lack of enthusiasm going in, and reminding them that they did have some measure of choice, I hope to mitigate some of their disinterest and/or outright hostility. I frequently would have graduating seniors in the course who’d been putting it off to the last minute.
Q: How did you choose the novels we will be reading in this class?
A: Since this is a course in “contemporary” literature, I’ve strived to choose books that reflect our contemporary world. This does not necessarily mean books that are published in the 2000’s, but instead means that I’ve chosen books that I think are engaged with the questions of life and existence in the world we live in now.
Toward that goal, I’ve also chosen books that wrestle with the very nature of what it means to be “human.” This, really, is the subject matter of all art, but the specific books I’ve chosen tend to tackle some of our biggest questions like the existence (or not) of free will, the struggle of good and evil, and the impact of technology and commerce in a postmodern world.
In addition, and more importantly, all of our books have moved me emotionally. (I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, they were better than Cats.) This is to say that I think they are good books from a purely, “I’m glad I read that level.”
JW: Again, this is to address what I believe are commonly held attitudes about “Literature,” namely that it is boring and mostly written by dead people using funny words (i.e., Shakespeare). I’m trying to sell them that these books are going to be relevant to the lives they live. Late in the semester, I’ll go back and point out how the “classic” literature they read (and often loathed) in high school actually shares a lot with the more contemporary books from our class in an effort to get them to see things a little differently.
Q: Is there a lot of reading for this course?
A: It depends on what you mean by “a lot.” You will read four full-length works of fiction, in addition to critical essays, some poetry and additional readings. The readings will tend to be short, but some may be relatively dense and complicated. My goal is that, for at least this semester, you will make the reading and contemplation of literature something of a habit, the kind of thing that occupies at least a little of your brain space almost every day. Often this will only be 10-15 minutes of reading/work, while at other times it will be more sustained. By making reading something you do habitually, it will become easier and easier to do.
JW: Students often tell me they appreciate knowing this information the first day because it allows them to drop the course if we have a learning/teaching styles mismatch. By signaling the amount and type of work, they have a good indication if we’re compatible. I also want to adopt a somewhat blasé tone about the amount of reading in that I in no way see it as unreasonable, even if they might. This short-circuits any future complaints about reading load. We don’t read any hardcore theory, but I do assign critical essays of high difficulty and significant sophistication.
Q: What’s class going to be like, day to day?
A: Lots o’ discussion. Prior to each major text we will do some auxiliary reading and discussion designed to prime us for talking about the novel and in class we will discuss those readings on a “critical” level, meaning the discussion will be focused on the goal of understanding and responding to the reading. Once we get into the novels themselves we will talk about all kinds of things: what happened, how we respond to those things, what it all “means,” how the novel “works” (or doesn’t), where it fits in the larger literary and cultural conversation, etc...
We will talk more about this the third day of class, but one idea I want us to avoid like it is monkey pox is the idea that literature is something to be “figured out.”
Q: Figured out?
A: You know what I’m talking about. It’s the dominant mode of discussing literature in high school, and to my mind, the chief reason why so many people quit reading. It presumes that a work of literature (novel, poem, short story, play, etc…) is something that has a very specific meaning and message and it’s the reader’s job to figure it out. The reading experience then becomes a kind of puzzle where we’re looking for the “right” answer and any response that doesn’t embrace that answer is somehow “wrong.” You then write a paper about the interplay of light and dark in the poetry of Emily Dickinson, or the significance of the color yellow in John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums.”
Q: How do you see things differently?
A: I see literature (and indeed any text) as an invitation to a conversation and it is my job to respond to this invitation by offering a response of my own to it. Think about it, a human being sat down to write a book because they felt like they had something to say. Like any human being they have hopes and fears, doubts and dreams, and are likely not entirely aware of what they have to say may mean to another human being. We’ve come to look at “art” as something separate from life, something impenetrable and mysterious, something for museums and libraries and scholars, but the opposite is true. Art IS life. Artistic expression is an urgent message from the most meaningful parts of our humanity. To me, there couldn’t be a clearer invitation to having an exchange. That response will be as unique as the individual doing the reading. Literature (again, like all art) isn’t to be “figured out,” it is to be “experienced.”
Q: So what you’re saying is that it means whatever I say it means?
A: Not quite, and not exactly. While I believe there are many “right” (a better word might be “valid”) responses to a piece of literature, there are also “wrong” ones. We can’t call a banana an orange just because we want to. There are interpretations or responses to a text that simply aren’t supported by the text. When we’re in a conversation, we’re obligated to respond appropriately on the turf the conversation starter has invited us to. However, as long as what you have to say in response to the reading is supported by a reasonable interpretation of the text, you’re on perfectly safe ground. As long as your response is justified in some way, you’re cool.
JW: I make no claims that this is a uniquely effective or appropriate way to teach literature as a general education course. What I do know is that it fits with how I view literature, and therefore works for me, which is the key. I believe this approach is rooted in me being a writer, as opposed to a scholar. This is just the way that I seem to respond to literature and art and I can only teach effectively if the approach is in sync with my values and interests. Also, my apologies to the high school English teachers of the world, but my experience is that students, even good ones, often exit high school hating reading, and I believe that the way we talk about the books, and what we ask them to do with them plays a role in this.
Q: We got off track on the “what’s class going to be like?” questions. We think there’s probably some aspect we’re overlooking. Surely we’re going to do more than talk?
A: You guys are on top of it. Thank you. Since this is classified as a general education class, I’m not particularly interested in turning you into English academics. You will do some writing for this course, but I want to steer clear of the standard five-paragraph essay. These are excellent tools for assessing whether or not someone “understands” a text, but as I said, I want to move beyond understanding to engagement and conversation. You will need to know and understand what they (the texts) say (conversation depends on this), but I’m more interested in what you have to say in response to them.
Q: All that sounds great, but what does this mean in terms of, you know, actual assignments.
A: The following assignments will be completed this semester.
Individual oral presentation: This will come in one of two forms for each of you. Some will be doing short (5 minute) presentations at the start of a class period on a topic of cultural, historical, or thematic relevance to the course. Others of you will choose to recite a poem (of sufficient length and subject to my approval) from memory in class. You will be given more detail on these assignments in future classes. (5% of semester grade)
Weekly journal entries: Using the Blackboard interface, I will be assigning specific topics each week to which you will respond in the form of a minimum 300 word piece of writing. This is not expected to be a fully-developed essay, but it should be as polished and clearly written as possible. (15% of semester grade)
Mid-semester essay: Around the mid-semester mark you will be asked to write a somewhat longer, more fully-developed essay of approximately 750-1000 words. (15% of semester grade)
Group oral presentation: Towards the latter part of the semester we will engage in a group project (stop groaning, it’s going to be fun) where you will present a book of your group’s choosing (within a list provided by me) that you will be responsible for reading and then “introducing” to the rest of the class. (20% of semester grade)
Reflection essay: For your final, individual project, you will do another short essay (approx. 750 words) where you’re asked to reflect on the semester as a whole. This will most likely be drawn from one or more of your journal entries completed over the course of the semester. (20% of semester grade)
Participation: Because I believe that literature is an invitation to a conversation, it makes sense that we should spend a lot of time conversing about it. This will come in several different forms, all of us together, small group, diads, individual conferences with me… Your participation will be noted and assessed. You will do well in this part of the course by doing things like being prepared and chiming in with your thoughts. (25% of semester grade)
JW: This is just more information that allows students to assess “fit.” The assignments often change semester to semester, but are primarily rooted in responding to literature in writing because I’m sort of old-school that way. The group project is a concession to the size of the course (35 students) and the fact that I had two sections, as well as one section of fiction writing, and another of advanced composition going concurrently. As much as I want them to write, there’s only so many grading hours in the day. That said, the group project often worked very well in terms of allowing them engage with the texts, which is the goal after all. My favorite assignment is the recitation of a poem. Being compelled to memorize a text like this often brings them a deeper understanding, not just of content, but of things like rhythm and meter. I’m not sure it makes them fans of poetry, but my hope is it makes them see it differently.
Q: No exams?
A: No. Don’t believe in them for this sort of course. I want to give you the opportunity to give your best and most thoughtful expression about what we read and discuss, something that a timed exam often does not allow for.
Q: No reading quizzes?
A: Absolutely not. Really don’t believe in them. They are an insult to everyone’s intelligence. You can count on the journal entries and class discussion to determine if you’ve done the reading in a timely fashion.
Q: Honestly, though, how are you going to get us to read these things on a timely basis if you don’t hold us accountable in the form of a short quiz?
A: I don’t care if you read the books on a timely basis. It’s not my problem. It’s yours. Please don’t think I’m saying it doesn’t matter if you don’t complete the reading on a timely basis; it’s actually hugely important to your success in the course, it’s just that I have no interest in policing it with reading quizzes. If you haven’t done the reading, you’ll have no idea what we’re talking about and be a total blank when it comes time to write your journal entry or essay or whatnot, and whatever you do manage to squeeze out of your nearly empty brain will do poorly. Most importantly, the books are good and you’ll probably like them and you’ll be missing out on that experience. We’ve got thirty-five people signed up for the class. If only a third of you do the reading on any given day, we’ve got plenty of people ready to have a kick-ass discussion. The rest of you can sit there slack-jawed and clueless.
JW: This sounds like sort of tough talk in print, but in class, my tone softens it considerably. I’m trying to establish an atmosphere of “serious fun,” that is, as long as we’re all prepared and engaged, we’re going to have fun. If not, things can become unpleasant. In a sense, I’m trying to sell the course to them, not by pandering, but by informing them of how deep encounters with literature can be fulfilling. I also want them thinking that I’m not the only one carrying the load when it comes to class.
Q: This attitude doesn’t extend to class attendance, does it?
A: Actually, yes. Class attendance is 100% optional. Let me say it again: completely and totally optional. I take attendance, but only in an effort to learn your names. There are no specific penalties for a set number of absences. You’re adults capable of making your own choices and you should be able to choose not to come to this class if you don’t see any benefit in it. I’ve got no interest in being sheriff and even less in being your jailer.
That said, if you don’t attend, you can’t participate, which is likely to harm that portion of your grade. Still, there are no specific deductions for not coming to class.
JW: Ken Bain’s book What The Best College Teachers Do convinced me to drop my attendance policy five or six years ago, and I haven’t looked back. Attendance is the same or better than when I would punitively penalize more than say…five…absences, and my blood pressure and angst level are much lower.
Q: Surely this laissez-faire attitude doesn’t extend to due dates, does it?
A: Indeed, this is where it must end. For practical grading reasons, the assignments are due on very specific dates. Late assignments are not accepted without prior arrangement (and I’m talking way prior, not day it’s due prior) and will receive a zero.
JW: I’ve found that by allowing late papers with grade penalties, I’m essentially giving permission to turn in late papers. By simply not allowing it, 99% of the time, work gets done. Those that miss deadlines without prior discussion often swallow the zero since they knew the bargain. This also is necessary for my own personal work flow, since I plan my courses in a way to make sure I’m not overwhelmed with too much grading at any given time.
Q: What are your feelings on cell phones?
A: Deep, intractable loathing. I despise them. They make me antsy and anxious, which is why, when you are in class, yours should be both silenced and out of sight. If you are seen touching your cell phone during class, and I mean merely touching, not just using, you will get one warning. After that warning if you are seen touching it again I will drop your semester grade a full letter. If your cell phone rings or vibrates or plays Lady Ga Ga, my mind will explode, spilling my brains across the room, and it won’t be pretty for you or your grade or the custodial staff that will have to clean up the mess. These devices have no utility in a classroom so we should not see them. I’m a very easy going guy about just about everything, but not this.
JW: I’ve now moved this item to the very beginning of the document because even the first day, by the time we get here, someone’s phone has either chimed, or they’ve checked them or whatever.
Q: But what if we read the books via electronic editions on our cellphones?
A: This is the exception to the rule.
Let me say a few words about digital v. hardcopy texts and then draw the lines on their use in this class so we can all be on the same page. I’m actually a huge believer in the future of digital technology and books. I happily read books on my Kindle as well as my iPod, but it is very much not the same as having a hardcopy of the text to refer to. As of yet, the technology doesn’t support reference work in quite the same way a good, old-fashioned book does. It’s hard to skim or scan, particularly if you’re trying to look at or reconcile two pages in different spots at once. It’s even more difficult if you’re trying to reference multiple texts at the same time as you’ll have to when doing the reflection essay assignment.
If you are going to do your reading on your iPod or iPhone, you must do some planning ahead in terms of electronic annotating and bookmarking.
Mostly, when you have the “texts” open on your phone in class, you will have a significant temptation in your hands, a device that could have you checking email or playing a quick game of Risk or checking Facebook, and at any time I could be behind you and see you not actually looking at the text in which case the full penalties of what happens if you’re caught touching a cellphone come into play.
Q: I like to take notes on my computer. Surely you can’t object to that?
A: I wish I didn’t, but I do. On the one hand, I sympathize. I’m so wedded to typing that I’ve pretty much lost the ability to write by hand (as you’ll see in my marginal comments on your essays). On the other hand, just as with cell phones, computers are a tremendous potential distraction and we want to eliminate distractions as much as possible, therefore I ask that you leave your computers stowed away during class.
JW: Early in the semester, we also practice effective note taking for the purposes of our class. Rather than recording information and the things I say, I want them actively engaged, free associating between what we’re discussing and other parts of their lives or the world. Most of the time, they’re looking for interesting things to write about, so we practice making specific observations and then drawing larger inferences from the observations. Often, during discussion, the question I’ll ask to remind them is “What are you thinking right now?”
Q: I hate to look like a grade-grubbing weasel on the first day, but what can we expect in terms of grades in this class?
A: Grades typically range across the entire spectrum. The most common grade tends to be a “B” with “A’s” and “C’s” being more rare and “D’s” and “F’s” even rarer. I don’t hand out A’s for going through the motions. “A” stands for excellent. Work that falls short of excellent isn’t going to get an A just because that’s increasingly become the expectation. At the same time, I’d be thrilled to give every last one of you an A as long as it was earned and deserved.
JW: The actual distribution always varies, but this tends to be true. I’ve removed information about my grading scale in the interests of saving space. It’s pretty typical, though. The grade-grubbing weasel line is a warning to the grade-grubbing weasels in the crowd. I'm happy to award achievement, but a campaign of pleading for higher scores only wears me out. I reinforce the difference when they hand in their earliest graded assignments, where I have a 48/96 hour rule, that is they must wait 48 hours after receiving the grade before they come discuss the assignment with me so we can have an appropriate contemplation period. They also must register their desire to talk to me about the grade on an assignment within 96 hours of its return. Anything past that window enters grade-grubbing weasel territory, particularly when it comes at the end of the semester and they're trying to chisel a couple of extra points to get over a threshold.
Q: What should we do if we miss class and need information?
A: To paraphrase the Spider Man comic books, “with great freedom comes great responsibility.” Essentially, it’s a simple matter of mutual courtesy. We have all set aside our specific class time to conduct the business of class. If you miss that meeting time, it is now your responsibility to catch up with the minimal amount of drain and impact on others, including your classmates as well as me.
If you know ahead of time you’re going to miss class for a specific reason, I’ll be happy to fill you in on what you’re going to miss before you miss it. If you miss class unexpectedly, regardless of the reason, you should contact a colleague about what was done and what you may have missed. I suggest that you exchange contact information with at least a couple of your classmates early in the semester so you have someone to get in touch with as a kind of buddy system.
If you send me an email that says, “I missed class, did we do anything?” I will ignore it because we both know the answer is “yes.” If you miss class and contact a colleague about what you missed and then have additional questions or want to discuss anything with me, at that point, I’m more than happy to talk to you via email or in person.
If you have some sort of more serious personal situation that’s going to cause you to miss multiple classes and/or assignments, get in touch with me ASAP so we can figure out the best course of action.
JW: This is another thing the students say they appreciate. Spelling out how I want to handle these things takes the guesswork out of it for them. This also reinforces the consequences of them choosing to miss class.
Q: I’m kind of getting the gist based on your answers to the other questions, but could you share your overall teaching philosophy with us?
A: I’m so glad you asked. I do my best to organize my courses along the following principles.
Challenging andworthwhile: It is my goal to make this course one of the most challenging (in all senses of the word) courses you will take at this university. Here’s something Princeton professor Cornel West (JW: I don’t think Professor West is at Princeton any longer.) said that sounds about right to me:
“I want to be able to engage in the grand calling of a Socratic teacher, which is not to persuade and convince students, but to unsettle and unnerve and maybe even unhouse a few students, so that they experience that wonderful vertigo and dizziness in recognizing at least for a moment that their world view rests on pudding, but then see that they have something to fall back on. It's the shaping and forming of critical sensibility. That, for me, is what the high calling of pedagogy really is.”
Note that this is not a function of how much work the course entails nor the standard to which that work is being held. (The amount of reading and writing is meant to be consistent with a 200-level course, as is the grading standard.) Rather, it is meant to reflect the depth of engagement I want us to bring to the topics at hand. I’m not doing my job if you’re not shaken up at least a little bit. If you don’t stretch, you can’t grow.
Here’s the truth, at heart I am an incredibly lazy person. There is very little I like to do, but when it comes to the things I do do – teaching, writing, editing, rec league no-check hockey, Rock Band – I do not believe in going through the motions. I understand that if you had a choice most of you would not have taken this course, but since you are here, it is my goal to challenge you, to force you to explore how you see the world and then encourage you to express those views in the context of responding to literature. My hope and my belief is that through this kind of challenge, you will see reward. If you come away from this course entirely unchanged, I haven’t done my job.
JW: I hope this indicates that I have no interest in indoctrinating students to my personal sensibilities, but I do want them to critically examine their own, to experience what Cornel West calls that “wonderful vertigo.” The feeling that my sensibilities can be shaken, but, in the spirit of the Six Million Dollar Man, can be rebuilt and made stronger is very powerful. My goal is to encourage students to access their own minds. By challenging their insights, I hope to give them value, not tear them to pieces. I’m careful with my rhetoric in the classroom to introduce ideas with language like “I believe,” or “I feel,” rather than declaring that my view is somehow “right.” If this is somehow seen as an example of higher education indoctrinating students to a liberal world view, I just don’t see what else we can do. To me, this is the core function of a university education.
Freedom:As reflected in my attendance policies, I prefer an atmosphere where each individual is responsible for his or her own behavior in a way that ultimately benefits the group as a whole. This is not an ethic of selfishness, but of self-accountability. I also believe in the absolute right of free expression. I hope we’re going to have disagreement in this class, not just about the aesthetic quality of the books, but about the issues they raise. You should expect to be challenged by me and your classmates. That said, I also expect disagreement to be handled with respect and appreciation for the diversity of views. Anyone who fails to hold up that end of the bargain will not care for the consequences.
Transparency:One of the reasons I do my syllabus this way is to make sure that all of the cards are on the table before the game starts. I try to make my approach, my policies, and my expectations as clear as possible so there’s no misunderstanding as we begin our journey. I want you to always know why we’re doing what we’re doing. If you don’t, I want you to stop me and ask. I urge you to take everything I have to say in this document seriously. There is no game, no hidden agenda. What you see is what you get.
In fact, in the interests of transparency, here’s some of the student comments from last year’s evaluations as to whether or not they would recommend this instructor to a friend, and why?
“I would absolutely recommend this instructor to a friend. He is a fair and generous grader, challenges his students, insightful and open-minded, and encourages us to think in ways we've never thought before.”
“I would. His teaching methods were different, but it worked. Professor Warner is interesting to listen to and I never worried about falling asleep in his class (which is an achievement for me).”
“No, there are a lot of other 215 professors who are much better and grade more fairly.”
“If you want to gain improvement in your writing and higher level thinking-Yes. If you want to get an A in English then-No.”
“Yes, I feel like I really learned something in the class and discussions made me think!”
“No, I wasn't the biggest fan of his teaching style and his idolization of Howard Stern.”
“Absolutely. Great teaching methods and discussions that make you want to come to class.”
JW: I include my teaching philosophy again in the interests of giving the students the maximum amount of information in order to determine “fit.” A number of students drop the class because I have no attendance policy. They express a need to be held specifically accountable, or they’ll drift away. Knowing this about themselves is, to my mind, a very useful bit of learning. I also do it because by publicly declaring these things to be my principles, I’m reminding myself to hold to them, as well as enlisting the students in holding me accountable. More than once a semester students will call me out on not being transparent, which forces me to rethink why I’m doing something. I update the student comments from the most recent previous semester. For the record, while I am a fan and regular listener of Howard Stern, I do not “idolize” him.
Q: We’ve heard there’s one foolproof way to fail this course, what is it?
A: Cheat by plagiarizing someone else’s work. I have zero tolerance for this kind of thing. Because of the books I have chosen and the nature of the assignments, it will be virtually impossible to even find something else that remotely fits what you’re supposed to do. Even if you did, I will suss out the fraud immediately and if it is clear that you have wantonly tried to pass off someone else’s work as your own I will enjoy nailing your academic hide to the wall. There is simply no reason for it.
JW: More boilerplate of the university academic honor code variety goes here. Because I often choose books that are off the beaten path and the assignments require drafts and focus on personal response and analysis of literature, plagiarism in this course happens very very rarely.
Q: Is there anything else we should know?
A: If so, I can’t think of it. But you should feel free to ask me at any time. Starting now.