Senior English at Another Course to College, with Mr. Comeau

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Senior English - World Literature with Mr. Robert Comeau

at Another Course to College, a Boston Public School




Central Theme:     Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?


Analyze and evaluate the chronological development of literature from around the world.





 Day 1: Introductions, Expectations, Critical Consciousness

Readings: Course Syllabus, Class Policies, Reading Calendars

Primary Assessment: Participation in class discussion

Unit Goals, Key Questions, & Topics for Class Discussion

Activities in addition to class discussion / primary writing assignment

History of Ideas


 Setting groundwork for a successful year together.

Critical Consciousness: Developing a critical eye on media, culture, power, justice, identity, language, and equality, by learning to read deeply the word, and the world.


Mini-lecture: My personal history with school and work, and ACC as a place for second chances

Gauguin's painting as a mental model for our work this year

Personal Reflection: Where are you from? How'd you get to ACC, or whatever place you're at? Where are you going?

Mini-lecture: Constructivism and a curriculum of understanding

Distribute World Literature Book 1, to look at class policies, book list, reading calendar, year overview

Discuss syllabus, expectations, policies, needs, hopes...

Background activation: what do you know / wonder about myths, theory? What's the difference?

Myth as a mental model

Physical analogy: For a concrete model for close reading, run through the hall, then stroll, then a close reading -- architecture as analogy for a text's construction, inside, and outside -- compare intertextual association, school built in shadow of another school, Brighton High, and how its construction informs this school's. Think of building's "author", then "authors," not just architect, but the forces of history that shape the structures.

PPT: Ancient art to Mesopotamian civilization

Mini-lecture: Active reading, marking up your texts

20th century education reform, out of Enlightenment rationalist tradition, Romantic notion of creative self, and late modern tradition of bracketing received ideas for a rediscovery of being in a grounded, local, immediate and vital experience of the word, and the world



Unit 1: Abrahamic Religions and Critical Consciousness: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam / Marxism, Liberation Theology, Feminism

Readings: Genesis, Exodus, The Gospel According to Matthew, and Approaching the Qur'an. Readings in critical theory from Marx, Ridley, Gutierrez, Cone, and Weigle.

Primary Assessment: In a 1250 word essay, analyze and evaluate one or more creation story, and one or more modern theory.


Unit Goals, Key Questions, & Topics for Class Discussion

Activities in addition to class discussion / primary writing assignment

History of Ideas


Examine these three major world religions through the lens of critical consciousness. How do key figures in each text see what others fail to see? Consider the stories of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. Compare them with models of false vision, in Adam, Eve, Cain, Nimrod, Judas, and the deniers. What do the theorists want us to see? What do the texts help you to see in the world, and in humankind, that is otherwise hidden?

What do you make of the stories of rebellion in Genesis? What can we learn from the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Nimrod and the tower? What are these stories saying about human nature and God's law?

What do you make of the stories of faithfulness in Genesis? What do the stories of Noah, Lot and Abraham teach us? Why is Abraham the seminal figure for each of these religions? Analyze the dawn of monotheism, the ultimate trial in the sacrifice of Isaac, and the marking out of the "chosen people." What do these key moments mean for each of the three Abrahamic traditions?

Analyze and evaluate the stories of liberation in the texts. Examine Exodus and the delivery from bondage in Egypt. How does Jesus work to free his people from Roman domination, and from themselves? How does the Qur'an work to save man from his own tyrant nature, forgetfulness, and from persecution by the enemies of the faith? How do the theorists see religion and liberation, in terms of class, region, race, and gender? How do you?

Analyze and evaluate the stories of restriction in the texts. What do you make of the story of Moses and the laws handed down by God? What about Jesus' take on law in the gospel? What of the stories of judgment and punishment in Genesis, Exodus, Matthew, and the Qur'an? What do you make of the controversial suras from the Qur'an that Sells doesn't address? How do they compare to controversial passages from the Bible? How should a modern reader interpret ancient scripture?

Analyze and evaluate the violence present in the texts, in the Jewish God's judgment, in the Christian apocalypse, in Islam's day of reckoning, and in Cone's theology of racial justice? Where should peace prevail over violence, and where is violence sanctified? Where do you stand on the question of violence vs. peace?

What's your personal connections to faith, rebellion, critical consciousness, and the quest for human freedom and social justice?



What do you think you know about these religions? What do you want to know? What might further study accomplish?

Discuss talking about religion, creating a safe space to analyze texts, while honoring people's living faiths


commandments - left tablet



Dawn of monotheism.


Development of "national God," favoring the Jewish people


Encoding of immutable laws in religious thought


God as "ultimate concern" whose demands come before even family


A God that is both moral and transcendent to human understanding of morality


Transforming received tradition: in Judaism's reworking of Mesopotamian narratives, in Christianity's transforming Jewish narratives of sacrifice and deliverance, and Islam's transforming traditional Arabic poetry of longing for the beloved, the desert journey, and the hero's generous sacrifice


Political resistance in religious contexts: Jews v. Egypt and Philistines, Christians v. Rome, Islam v. hostile tribes


Days of reckoning -- the defeat by God of nations, in Judaism; the judgment by God of each sinner, in Christianity; the day of reckoning by Allah of each individual, in Islam


Atonement -- law and ritual in Judaism; faith and sacrament in Christianity; duty and remembrance in Islam


Modern struggles for liberation -- where contemporary political struggles in regional, racial, and gender terms put ancient texts in modern contexts.



Unit 2a: Ancient Greece - Pre-Socratic Philosophy

Readings: Fragments from Thales, Anaximander, Heraclitus, and Democritus

Primary Assessment: Participation in class discussion


Unit Goals, Key Questions, & Topics for Class Discussion

Activities in addition to class discussion / primary writing assignment

History of Ideas


How do the Pre-Socratics mark a shift in thinking from creation stories, epics, and lyric poetry?

In what ways do these fragments share / depart from our contemporary understanding of the universe? How are they like and unlike modern science?

Some fragments see the truth of the world not in immutable laws and fixed identities of Platonic philosophy, but in constant flux and paradox. Later thinkers will mark this shift, with moderns celebrating the birth of reason and permanent truths in the work of Plato, and postmoderns lamenting the loss of Pre-Socratic insights into the paradoxical nature of reality. What do you make of these ancient insights into an ever-shifting "real"?


Mini-lecture: Brief history of ancient Greek philosophy, and the pre-Socratic / post-Socratic divide

Mini-lecture: review Aristotle's 4 Causes, with an emphasis on Arche, the material cause

Mini-lecture: Pre-Socratic flux, paradox, and postmodernity

Video: The Western Tradition, with Prof. Eugene Weber -- Greek Thought

Physical analogy: Simulate the Heraclitean river

Watch for radical shift from mythic and epic thinking, narrative form. Birth of scientific thinking? How similar, different?


Note motifs of flux and paradox, the loss of which postmoderns will lament in the philosophy of Plato, which comes to dominate European thought for many centuries.


Note how much of ancient writing is lost to us, as with Sappho





Unit 3: Ancient Greece -  Platonic Philosophy

Readings: Platonic dialogues from the Trial and Death of Socrates, and selections from The Republic.

Primary Assessment: Choose one or more dialogue for analysis, and write a 1250 word paper on one of the following topics.

1) Analyze and evaluate the character of Socrates. How do you judge him, and how do you judge the Athenians who sentenced him to death?

2) What is the nature of justice, as revealed in the dialogues, the trial, and in your own analysis?

3) Analyze and evaluate Socrates' relationship with knowledge, compared with those he speaks with in the dialogues, and compared with your own understanding.

4) What's real? Compare your ideas with those of Socrates in the dialogues.

5) Compare and contrast the way Socrates understands the nature of the gods, compared with Greek myth.

6) What is the nature of the psyche, the mind, the soul? Compare the answers in the dialogues with your own.

7) Explore the tensions between Platonic idealism and the practical world.

8) Propose a topic of your choice, which we'll discuss, and I must approve in advance.


Unit Goals, Key Questions,

& Topics for Class Discussion

Activities in addition to class discussion / primary writing assignment

History of Ideas


What do you make of the character of Socrates? How do you judge him, his method, his passion for argument, his relentless questioning, his "gadfly" personality?

Compare Socrates' ideas on justice to his experience of justice in his trial under the Athenian democracy. How do these ancient stories of justice compare to your understanding about how our justice system works, or should work?

What is real? What is illusion? What does it mean to "know"? Analyze and evaluate Plato's idea of the forms, his championing of ideas over the transitory and ever flawed material world.

What do you make of the tensions between idealism and pragmatism? Where do you stand in the spectrum between perfect, pure ideals and a flawed but realizable practicality?

How does the mind work? What roles do desire, passion and reason play in our lives? What role should they play? What is the nature of the psyche, the soul, in the dialogues and in your own ideas?

How does Plato mark a radical shift from the mythic, poetic, and epic modes we've read so far? Charles Taylor notes Plato's assault on traditional stories of the gods, poetic inspiration, and the violent passions of the epic warrior. Plato instead champions interior composure over external glory, rational thought over passion and desire. What do you make of this "inward turn" toward rational order, whose legacy is still with us today?

Analyze and evaluate the form of the dialogue and its arguments through close readings, to illuminate the structures of Plato's text beneath its surface.

What do you make of Socrates' dialectical method, as a model for learning, teaching, thinking, and participating in a democracy? What are the implications to your answer?

Physical analogy: Group effort at a theoretical definition of a chair, which I manipulate/ destroy until it is no longer a "chair", and treat other objects as chairs (tables, students) until we get a better definition

Physical analogy: Simulate the Platonic cave, with a class of prisoners, reciting the name of shadows I make on the wall, until one brave prisoner breaks free and sees what's really outside the cave. He comes back to tell the prisoners of the real... and is met with hate and violence.


Roman copy of a bust of Socrates

Watch for struggle against model of the epic hero, toward a model of rational self-mastery. (Taylor)


Important shift from external focus of epic mode to internal focus of contemplative mode. Here, one might suffer externally but it's the interior of the psyche which measures goodness. Dawn of interiority, peculiar to modern notion of Western self (Taylor)


Birth of idealism, where abstract ideas are given priority over the material world that shadows them.


Analysis of the human soul, its divisions, functions, fictions, vices and virtues.


Championing of reason over emotion and passion. Unity of soul, composure, against the irrational inspiration of the poets, and the violent passions of the epic hero. (Taylor)


Opposition of mythic mode, where universe is chaotic, and gods are as capricious as humans. Now, an orderly, elegant universe, to which man must align himself (Taylor)


Look for roots of Christian idealism, into which Plato grows as the "Attic Moses"


Analysis - Don't

Analysis - Do

1. Appeal to Authority. It isn't the authority of the source that makes an argument correct, but the argument and evidence.

Analyze the Authority's Argument. Appeal to the specific arguments and evidence that the authority puts forward, convincing your audience through sound reasoning, not name dropping.

2. Two Wrongs Make a Right. Don't make a bad argument or wrong action on the grounds that your opponent has done the same.

Analyze the Wrong. If the opponent against whom you argue has made a bad argument or wrong action, explain the nature of the problem without committing the error yourself.

3. Appeal to Force. Shouting down or otherwise intimidating your opponent is not an argument at all. It implies that you have no argument, and have resorted to bullying.

Appeal to Reason. Remain calm in debate. If your opponent resorts to an appeal to force, point it out, and focus the debate back to the argument at hand.

4. Argumentum ad Hominem. Attacking the character of your opponent leaves his argument untouched.

Argue the Ideas. Focus on argument and evidence.

5. Tu Quoque. Turning the argument back on the accuser is a form of ad hominem. Saying, "You're another," doesn't address the merits of the original argument, but grants the argument of your opponent so you can turn it against her character.

Analyze the Argument. Debate the validity and evidence of the original argument.

6. Genetic Fallacy. Focusing on the history and origins of an idea attempts to distract the audience from the real debate -- the current merits of the idea.

Argue the Current Merits. Focus on the idea at debate, not where the idea comes from, or who accepted or rejected it in the past.

7. Red Herring. Introducing an irrelevant topic for debate is an obvious attempt to throw your audience or opponent off the track from the real debate at hand.

Stay Relevant. Focus on issues relevant to the debate at hand.

8. Straw Man. Pretending that your opponent holds an argument that you can easily defeat, while he obviously does not hold that argument, weakens your analysis.

Fight Fair. Address the arguments that your opponent has actually made. There's plenty of work to do here.

9. Quoting Out of Context. Misquoting relies on the audience's unfamiliarity with the source. You'll be found out in debate when your opponent replies, or when an informed member of your audience (me), calls you on this intellectual shortcut.

Stay True to Context and Spirit. Provide sufficient context when quoting your opponent, so that the audience understands the focus and spirit of your opponent's argument.

10. Bandwagon Fallacy. The popularity of an idea does not prove the idea true or false.

Think Independently. Argue about ideas, independent of their popularity or unpopularity.

11. One-Sidedness. Ignoring evidence and argument against your ideas leaves this evidence and argument hanging over your head, for all to see.

Address Counter-arguments. Examine all of the evidence. Anticipate and address the objections an opponent might make to your analysis.

12. Appeal to Ignorance. Lack of evidence does not prove or disprove an idea.

Appeal to Evidence. Know what you don't know. Lack of evidence means uncertainty. Work to gather more, and interpret it.

13. Hasty Generalization. If you base an argument on a sample of evidence that's too small to be representative (just personal experience, or too little data), you've failed to prove your argument. Other evidence might speak against your analysis.

Look Broadly at Evidence. Make sure you've examined and addressed enough evidence to give proof to your argument.

14. Slippery Slope. There are two forms of this bad analysis.

Semantic. This relies on the vagueness of definitions. "There's no difference between A and Z, because the distinction between them is arbitrary." Example: "There's no difference between bald and hairy, because any number set for the limit of hairs between the two definitions would be arbitrary."

Causal. This relies on the linking of causes, from one premise or action, to a resulting negative, without making the causal chain clear. "If A is allowed then Z would need to be allowed too, because A leads in gradual steps to Z." Example: "If we ban guns for personal protection, foreign powers could invade our country at will."

Rationally Analyze the Continuum.

Semantic. Definitions rely on the difference of degree, even if the difference can't be quantified with exact precision. A difference of degree is still a difference. Argue the ideas, not their semantics.

Causal. If there is a link of causes between A and Z, you need to explain them clearly, and rationally. Make the steps in a continuum clear.

15. Appeal to Consequences. The consequences of an argument have no bearing on the truth or falsity of that argument.

Appeal to Reason. Work to get at the truth, and consider its implications without bending the rules of logic.

16. False Dilemma. Don't pretend there are two choices in a given situation, one that you favor and the other that you choose for its offensiveness.

Thoughtful choices. Honestly consider all of the possibilities. Showing your audience that you've thought through the problem is more convincing than settling up false binaries.

17. Affective Fallacy. Don't just gush over a text, or vent negative emotions over its shortcomings.

Read closely. Let your emotions fuel a careful reading and sound argument, which may be impassioned, but never solely emotive.

18. Intentional Fallacy. The meaning of a text is not what you believe the author "meant to say"

Analyze the text. The text is what the author "meant to say," or she should've written something else. Analyze the words on the page.




Unit 4: Ancient China: Poetry and Philosophy

Readings: Li Po and Tu Fu, selected poems. Lao Tsu's Tao Te Ching, and the Analects of Confucius, selections

Primary Assessment: Write 6 poetic aphorisms, roughly equal parts art and analysis:

1)       On Li Po

2)       On Tu Fu

3)       On Tao

4)       On Confucius

5)       On your "Way"

6)       On your "Way"


Unit Goals, Key Questions, & Topics for Class Discussion

Activities in addition to class discussion / primary writing assignment

History of Ideas


Analyze and evaluate two visions of "the Way", Taoism and Confucianism. Explore the tensions between a "natural," spontaneous and free mode of being, and taking on the traditional duties of social responsibility

Analyze and evaluate the poems of Li Po and Tu Fu, paying special attention to their construction of meaning through poetics, and their reflections of Chinese philosophy

Develop your own skills of poetic and aphoristic expression, practicing for more polished writing, and the "4" thesis

Physical analogy: illustrate a circuitous, clumsy way of arriving at an end, compared to a quick and elegant route


Tensions between a model of life grounded in stable social structures, and a life free from the constraints of civilization, closer to "nature."





New units, based on student interests, reflecting polling:

Racial & Ethnic Identity Development



Critical Race Theory, Postcolonial Thought and Critical Consciousness


Old chronological units, some of which are still in the mix:


Central theme


Day 1: Critical Consciousness


Unit 1: Religion and Theories of Liberation


Unit 2b: Ancient Greece: Pre-Socratics


Unit 3: Ancient Greece:  Plato


Analysis: Do and Don't


Unit 4: Ancient China: Poetry and Philosophy


Unit 5: Ancient Rome: The Aeneid


A Sketch of History


Unit 6: The Arabian Nights


Unit 7: High Medieval  Italy: Inferno

Unit 8a: High Renaissance Spain: Don Quixote


Unit 8b: High Renaissance England: Hamlet


Unit 9: European Enlightenment


Unit 10: Modern Economics: Smith v. Marx


Unit 11: English Romantic Poets


Unit 12: English Modernism


Unit 13: Existentialism


Unit 14: Magical Realism and McOndo


Unit 15: Postmodern Theory


Unit 16: Postcolonial Literature & Theory



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