Over the past few years, I have taught numerous multicultural American literature courses, at various levels from sophomore to graduate. This semester, the texts center around the question, “Who is American?” Unlike previous semesters, I have read or taught these texts before, so none are really new to me. However, the overarching theme and the focus of the texts has provided me with ways to expand the discussion, specifically by having students look at the way we define who is American and the ways that we remember the past. As such, I have broken the course up into three distinct and intersecting sections focused on Japanese internment, the Holocaust, and the Civil Rights Movement.

Course Description and Objectives:

Writing in the midst of the Holocaust and World War II, Hannah Arendt concludes her 1943 essay “We Refugees” with this line, “The comity of European peoples went to pieces when, and because, it allowed its weakest member to be excluded and persecuted.” Arendt escaped the Holocaust by fleeing to France when the Nazis took power in 1933 and then ultimately to New York in 1941 where she lived and worked until her death in 1975. Arendt saw that instead of working towards the mutual benefit of everyone, individuals oppressed and murdered “its weakest member,” in this case European Jews. In the essay, Arendt argues that she is not a “refugee,” even though she is escaping the Holocaust. Rather, she is an “immigrant.” This distinction and language is something we need to consider over the course of this semester.

The Naturalization Act of 1790 granted United States citizenship to “any alien, other than an alien enemy, being a free white person.” The latter clause remained, either explicitly or implicitly, in law until the Immigration and Nationalization Act of 1952 which prohibits any discrimination based on gender or race in naturalization.”  However, the clause “free white person” served as precedent until then, and in Ozawa v. United States (1922) the Supreme Court ruled against granting Takao Ozawa, a Japanese citizen who had lived in the United States for 20 years, graduating high school and university here, citizenship on the basis that he was not of the “Caucasian race” and that the courts “have held that the words ‘white person’ were meant to indicate only a person of what is popularly known as the Caucasian race.”

Section one of the 13th Amendment reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The key clause here, “except as punishment of crime,” is one that we will explore this semester as well in some of the texts we read, notably Ernest Gaines’ Of Love and Dust.

Each of the above point to a fundamental question that the texts in this course examine, “Who is American?” This has been a topic of discussion from the colonial period forward. The central core of this course will focus on this fundamental question; however, we will also explore other topics over the course of the semester, including pedagogical tools for your own classes.     

During this course, we will read texts from the latter part of the twentieth century into the twenty first. We will read works by Jewish American, Japanese American, Chinese American, Argentinian American, and African American writers. The primary texts will consist of novels and graphic novels. Graphic novels provide students with the opportunity to engage with multimodal texts, allowing them to engage critically with other forms of media such as films and television. As well, Dr. Michelle Falter notes that students find graphic novels more manageable that strictly text-based works and “graphic novels are cross-curricular.” Along with these texts, we will read secondary sources that will illuminate and help us think about the texts we will read this semester.  

One of the things I think about when constructing a course is how you can use these texts in your own classroom. Since you are education majors, I want to provide you with works and themes that you can bring into your own classrooms. As such, at the end of the semester you will create a lesson plan or syllabus and present it to the class via video. You will also compose an essay, using scholarly sources, detailing the choices you made when constructing your lesson plan. You will learn more about this project later in the semester, but the purpose of it is to help you think about different ways to take what you learn in this course and implement it in your own classroom.

Primary Texts:

  • Craft, Jerry. New Kid.
  • Gaines, Ernest. Of Love and Dust.
  • Hughes, Kiku. Displacement.
  • Lewis, John, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. March (Trilogy).
  • Okada, John. No-No Boy.
  • Ozick, Cynthia. The Messiah of Stockholm.
  • Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus.
  • Takei, George, Harmony Becker, Justin Eisinger, and Scott Snyder. They Called Us Enemy.
  • Weaver, Lila Quintero. Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White
  • Yang, Gene Luen. Superman Smashes the Klan.

Secondary Texts:

  • Arendt, Hannah. “We Refugees.”
  • Endo, Rachel. “Reading Civil Disobedience, Disaffection, and Racialized Trauma in John Okada’s No-No Boy: Lessons Learned 75 Years After Executive Order 9066.”
  • Fishman, Sylvia Barack. “Imagining Ourselves: Cynthia Ozick’s The Messiah of Stockholm.”
  • Martínez-Alfaro, María Jesús. “Caught in the Grip of an Inherited Past: (Post)Memory and Representation in Art Spiegelman’s Maus.”
  • Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.
  • Morrison, Jennifer. “The Politics of the Plate: Foodways and Southern Culture in Ernest Gaines’ Of Love and Dust.”
  • Ozawa v. United States (1922)
  • Regalado, Aldo L. “From Strange Visitors to Men of Tomorrow.” Bending Steel: Modernity and the American Superhero, pp. 79-112.
  • Santos, Jorge. “On Photo-Graphic Narrative: ‘To Look—Really Look’ Into the Darkroom.”
  • Schulz, Bruno “The Mythologization of Reality.”
  • Stein, Daniel. “Lessons in Graphic Nonfiction: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell’s March Trilogy and Civil Rights Pedagogy.”

Organization:

This is an online class, so the delivery of material will be done asynchronously. I will provide, each week, a lecture or video discussing various topics and themes from the text(s). Some of these lectures will be conversations with other scholars and writers. We will use discussion boards to talk about topics during the semester. Each of the assignments in this course are meant to help you think about how you will carry the information you learn into the classroom and use it when teaching your own students. As such, keep pedagogy in the front of your mind when reading and working throughout the semester.

Weekly Schedule:

  • Monday: I will post the video lecture for that week online
  • Monday through Friday: Watch the video lecture and read the assigned readings
  • By Friday: Post your question or observation and your response to your peers on the forum.

Course Requirements and Explanation of Grading

  • Attendance and Participation 10%
  • Discussion Boards                                                                   30%
  • Lesson Plan/Syllabus Paper                                                   15%
  • Lesson Plan/Syllabus                                                              20%
  • Lesson Plan/Syllabus Video & Materials                             25%

You will be held accountable to the following attendance policy: 4 or more unexcused absences will result in a grade of FA (failure due to absences). If you have an excused absence—e.g., university-sponsored trip, doctor’s visit—you must provide verification to the course instructor, in writing, no later than one week after the absence occurs.

For attendance, I will check Canvas each Monday to see that you have been engaged in the course. This means the videos, readings, and discussion board. Canvas provides analytic tools that show the last time you have logged in, the times spent on pages, the downloads, etc. I will check this each Monday.

Attendance will be taken based on your participation in the forums and on engagement with materials (downloads, time on pages, etc.).

Lesson Plan/Syllabus—The lesson plan/syllabus is meant to get you to think about how you would teach one of the texts or themes we cover in this course in your own classroom. This is a pedagogical exercise, helping you consider the best way(s) to have students engage in oftentimes difficult conversations. For this assignment, you can use any lesson plan template or syllabus template you would like, but you must the plan must at least cover one week’s worth of classes in the lesson plan and 15-16 weeks for a syllabus. As well, you must include the English Language Arts Georgia Standards of Excellence standards. 

Lesson Plan/Syllabus Paper—In the lesson plan/syllabus paper, you will discuss the choices that you made when you were constructing your lesson plan or syllabus. You will examine your own choices and the secondary sources and scholars that informed them. This paper will be between 1,500-2,000 words.

Lesson Plan/Syllabus Video and Materials—For this assignment, you will present one part of your lesson plan/syllabus for the rest of the class. You will treat this as if you are teaching the class or introducing the syllabus that day. These will be asynchronous, of course, so you will have to think about ways to engage the students. Along with the video, you will create materials for the lesson. These can be question sheets, discussion boards, PowerPoints, etc. You must create two of these.  

Discussion Boards—Every week, you will be required to post a question or observation about the readings for that week. You must also respond to your one of your classmates’ posts on the forum and then respond to one of your classmates’ responses to receive full credit for the assignment. For some weeks, I will have guided prompts.

Classroom Conduct–Students should conduct themselves in a manner respectful of themselves, their classmates, and me. While we may discuss controversial or potentially offensive issues, and class discussions may well involve differences of opinion, students are to conduct themselves in a professional manner.

Discussion will be a key part of our class. As an open classroom, we will listen to the ideas of all students with thoughtfulness. You are encouraged to challenge ideas, but not each other. In this classroom, we are equal. We will adhere to a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination of any kind.

What are your thoughts? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.

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