FYW 1259 Syllabus

Reconsidering James Baldwin in an Era of #BlackLivesMatter (Fall 2018)

FYW-1259-01 / Hipp Hall 205, 11:30-12:20 MWF
FYW-1259-02 / Hipp Hall 205, 10:30-11:20 MWF

Instructor: Dr. P. L. Thomas

Phone: 294-3386 (office); 590-5458 (cell)

Class time: See above

Room: See above

Office hours: by appointment, 101F Hipp Hall

Email: paul.thomas@furman.edu

Course Blogs:


google Drive resources link: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B5rkPGGYEGphMEs3b2V0OXJTZjA&usp=sharing

Resource Librarian: Jenny Colvin jenny.colvin@furman.edu

Academic Integrity: http://www.furman.edu/integrity/InformationforStudents.htm

“The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer.” — James Baldwin. The Nation. July 11, 1966.


Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay

Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, 12th Edition, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup

ISBN-10: 0134080416; ISBN-13: 978-0134080413

The Transition to College Writing , (2nd ed) Keith Hjortshoj

ISBN: 0312440820; ISBN-13: 9780312440824

Choose a major collection of non-fiction by James Baldwin*:

James Baldwin: The Last Interview: and other Conversations

Notes of a Native Son

Nobody Knows My Name

The Fire Next Time

No Name in the Street

*You may substitute a contemporary work by a black writer as well; for example:

I Am Not Your NegroJames Baldwin and Raoul Peck

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education, Mychal Denzel Smith

A House of My Own, Sandra Cisneros

Known and Strange Things: Essays, Teju Cole

The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson

The End of Imagination, Arundhati Roy

Sex Object, Jessica Valenti

We Should All Be FeministsChimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit


This seminar primarily focuses on providing students rich content that spurs original essays, content drawn from the non-fiction and public talks/debates of James Baldwin and the #BlackLivesMatter movement spurred in social media. Students will investigate issues in the context of race and reconsider their own perspectives on race and privilege in order to write disciplinary essays.


  • Enthusiasm for learning and reflection.

Students will read, write, discuss, reflect during class and throughout the semester—both as a fulfillment of the course requirements and by choice outside of class. The semester will be an opportunity to explore the nature of text, genre, scholarship, reading, and writing.

  • Critical consideration of established knowledge.

Student will read and research topics of their choosing.

  • Critical evaluation of preconceptions and assumptions.

Students will identify their own preconceptions about text, genre, scholarship, reading, and writing.

  • Understanding available and emerging sources of information and appreciating the importance of independent work and appropriate citation.
  • Appreciation of the research process and of the creative expansion of information and understanding.

Students will draft and complete original essays and a final portfolio. This original writing will reflect the students’ scholarship, including their skills at selecting and interpreting sources along with their ability to craft original written scholarship that conforms to the conventions of the genre (including appropriate documentation).

  • Proficiency in expository and argumentative writing.

Students will draft original academic and scholarly compositions within a workshop format that requires multiple drafts and conferencing with peers and the professor.

Students With Special Needs

Furman University is committed to making reasonable accommodations, as per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504, and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, to assist individuals with disabilities in reaching their academic potential. If you have a disability that may impact your performance, attendance, or grades in this course and require accommodations, you must first register with the Student Office for Accessibility Resources (SOAR) (http://www.furman.edu/studentlife/accessibility/Pages/default.aspx). The Student Office for Accessibility Resources is responsible for coordinating classroom accommodations and other services for students with disabilities. Please note that classroom accommodations cannot be provided prior to your instructor’s receipt of an accommodations letter, signed by you and the SOAR director. In order to receive appropriate accommodations this term, it is imperative that you make this contact in a timely manner.


[ ] Students are expected to attend all class sessionsread all assigned/chosen textsparticipate fully in class discussions, and contribute during writing workshop activities.

[ ] Students will submit reading reflections by email before class sessions per the course schedule. Reading reflections are the primary artifacts of student engagement with the assigned texts noted above .

[ ] Students will complete a number of writing exercises throughout the course; they should be organized and then submitted at the end of the course in the final portfolio.

[ ] Students will compose and submit four original essays (approximately 4-5 pages/ 1250-1500 words each) throughout the course; each essay must be submitted in multiple drafts that reflect significant revision as impacted by both peer and instructor input during the writing process. The four essays should represent a wide variety of writing genres as chosen by each student and approved by the professor. The course offers students the opportunity to explore writing experiences that will enhance and support their academic experiences as young scholars.

All essays should be in 12 pt. Times New Roman font, double spaced (except Essay 2).

Essay Requirements

Essay 1: Compose a personal narrative, focusing on a narrow, specific event from your life. Use that story to guide the reader toward a larger point or question you want them to consider more deeply. Use samples to guide your drafting.

Examples of personal narratives:

Everybody’s Somebody’s Baby, Barbara Kingsolver

Letter to My Son, Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Secret Lives of Inner-City Black Males, Ta-Nehisi Coates

They Can’t Turn Back, James Baldwin

Essay 2: Compose and draft an essay of about 1250-1500 words in blog/online format (see examples below) that offers an expository or argumentative mode for a general public audience from the perspective of expertise. Incorporate images, video, or other media.

SAMPLE submission format.


Should We Marvel at a Black Captain America?

[See scholarly version: Can Superhero Comics Defeat Racism?]

There is no debate about hitting children – it’s just wrong

Corporations Are Behind The Common Core State Standards — And That’s Why They’ll Never Work

Gaiman’s Mythical Folding of Childhood into Adulthood

See a blog started by a former FYW student here at Furman.

Essay 3: Compose and draft a substantially cited essay of about 4-6 double-spaced pages that presents a discipline-based examination of a topic or poses a discipline-based argument. Citations must conform to APA style guidelines. [See “Writing for Specific Fields.”]


Properly formatted APA sample essay

Universal Public Education—Our (Contradictory) Missions

Of Rocks and Hard Places—The Challenge of Maxine Greene ’s Mystification in Teacher Education

Essay 4: TBD in a conference

[ ] MIDTERM: Choose a scholar (for example, a Furman professor) to research and/or interview about her/his work as a writer/scholar. Prepare a 1-2 page handout or PowerPoint (multimedia) presentation to submit to the professor (due on midterm) and contribute to a class analysis and synthesis of projects during midterm class session.

[ ] FINAL EXAM: Students will submit all work in a final portfolio, including all work throughout the course and a reflective piece on the quality of your essays and your new awareness of your writing process.

Minimum Requirements for course credit:

  • Submit all essays in MULTIPLE DRAFTS per schedule before the last day of the course; initial drafts and subsequent drafts should be submitted with great care, as if each is the final submission, but students are expected to participate in process writing throughout the entire semester as a minimum requirement of this course—including a minimum of ONE conference per major essay.
  • Demonstrate adequate understanding of proper documentation and citation of sources through at least a single well-cited essay or several well-cited essays. A cited essay MUST be included in your final portfolio.

Fall 2016 MWF Schedule

Available on course blog: https://jamesbaldwinblacklivesmatter.wordpress.com/

Academic Integrity

  • Academic integrity at Furman is governed by the university’s academic integrity policy (121.5). Students have the ultimate responsibility for understanding and adhering to university policy. They should therefore familiarize themselves thoroughly with the information on this web site, as well as with other university materials on this topic.
  • Understanding what constitutes academic misconduct is essential for avoiding it. This is especially true of plagiarism. Check out the definitions of academic misconduct and tips for avoiding plagiarism on this web site. Ask for clarification from your instructor(s) if necessary. Do not automatically assume that what applies in one course applies in another. (Of course, some behaviors are always wrong, such as plagiarizing an assignment, fabricating data, or cheating on a test or quiz.)
  • Furman students are not required to report suspected violations of academic integrity, but they are encouraged and empowered to do so by the policy.
  • Disputed allegations of academic integrity are adjudicated by the Academic Discipline Committee(see 190.6). This committee consists of five faculty members and two students.
  • Theprofessor has the authority to determine the grade penalty for violations of academic integrity. The Academic Discipline Committee (ADC) has the authority to impose penalties for violations beyond the grade in the course, such as revocation of pass-fail status, suspension, and/or expulsion from the university. In addition, students can appeal a grade penalty to the ADC, which may choose to recommend a different penalty to the professor. The course instructor retains authority over the grade, however.

In short, Furman students should:

  • Inform themselves about Furman policy and expectations through this web site and other available means;
  • Abideby the university’s academic integrity policies and encourage others to do the same;
  • Ask for clarification from professors if necessary;
  • Learn how to cite sources appropriately;
  • Report suspected violations of the policy.

Rationale: Courses Taught by P. L. Thomas—Welcome to the Occupation

Paulo Freire (1993) establishes early in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “One of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is prescription. Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness” (pp. 28-29).

The course before you, your course, will be guided by some essential principles, beliefs, and research concerning the nature of learning and teaching along with the commitments I have to the dignity of each person’s humanity and to the sacredness of intellectual freedom within a democracy. The practices and expectations of this course are informed by many educators, writers, and researchers—many of who are referenced at the end. But the guiding philosophies and theories of this course can be fairly represented ascritical pedagogycritical constructivism, and authentic assessment.

Now that I am in my third decade as a teacher, my classroom practices and expectations for students are all highly purposeful—although most of my practices and expectations are non-traditional and may create the perception that they are “informal.” For you, the student, this will be somewhat disorienting (a valuable state for learning) and some times frustrating. Since I recognize the unusual nature of my classes, I will offer here some clarity and some commitments as the teacher in this course.

In all of my courses, I practice “critical pedagogy.”  This educational philosophy asks students to question and identify the balance of power in all situations—an act necessary to raise a your awareness of social justice.  I also emphasize “critical constructivist” learning theory.  Constructivism challenges students (with the guidance of the teacher) to forge their own understanding of various concepts by formulating and testing hypotheses, and by utilizing inductive, not just deductive, reasoning. A constructivist stance asks students to recognize and build upon their prior knowledge while facing their own assumptions and expectations as an avenue to deeper and more meaningful learning. My practices avoid traditional forms of assessment (selected-response tests), strive to ask students to create authentic representations of their learning, and requires revision of that student work.

Some of the primary structures of this course include the following:

  • I delay traditional grades on student work to encourage you to focus on learning instead of seeking an “A” and to discourage you from being “finishers” instead of engaged in assignments. At any point in the course, you can receive oral identification of on-going grades if you arrange an individual conference concerning you work. However, this course functions under the expectation that no student work is complete until the last day of the course; therefore, technically all students have no formal grade until the submission of the final portfolio. One of the primary goals of this course is to encourage you to move away from thinking and acting as a studentand toward thinking and acting in authentic ways that manifest themselves in the world outside of school.
  • I include individual conferences for all students at mid-term (and any time one is requested), based on a self-evaluation, a mid-course evaluation, and an identification of student concerns for the remainder of the course. You will receive a significant amount of oral feedback (“feedback” and “grades” are not the same, and I consider “grades” much less useful than feedback), but much of my feedback comes in the form of probing questions that require you to make informed decisions instead of seeking to fulfill a requirement established by me or some other authority. Your learning experience is not a game of “got you”; thus, you have no reason to distrust the process. I value and support student experimentation, along with the necessity of error and mistakes during those experiments.My classroom is not a place where you need to mask misunderstandings and mistakes. I do not equate learning with a student fulfilling clearly defined performances (see Freire’scommentary on prescription above), but I do equate learning with students creating their own parameters for their work and then presenting their work in sincere and faithful ways.
  • I include portfolio assessment in my courses, requiring students to draft work throughout the course, to seek peer and professor feedback through conferences, and to compile at the end all of their assignments in a course with a reflection on that work; my final assessments are weighted for students and guided by expectations for those assignments, but those weights and expectations are tentativeand offered for negotiation with each student. Ultimately, the final grade is calculated holistically and based on that cumulative portfolio. All major assignments in this course must be drafted in order to be eligible for a final grade of “A.” The drafting process must include at least two weeks of dedication to the assignment, student-solicited feedback from the professor, and peer feedback. Assignments must be submitted in final forms in the culminating portfolio, but documentation of the drafting process must also be submitted with the final products.Any major assignments that do not fulfill the expectation of drafting will not receive a grade higher than a “B.” Revision is a necessary aspect of completing academic work.

Welcome to the occupation. This is your class, a series of moments of your life—where you make your decisions and act in ways you choose. Freedom and choice, actually, are frightening things because with them come responsibility. We are often unaccustomed to freedom, choose, and responsibility, especially in the years we spend in school. So if you are nervous about being given the freedom to speak and the responsibility for making your own choices, that is to be expected. But I am here to help—not prescribe, not to judge. That too will make you a bit nervous. I am glad to have this opportunity in your life, and I will not take it lightly. I would be honored if you choose not to take it lightly either.


Ayres, W. (2001). To teach: The journey of a teacher. New York: Teachers College Press.

Brooks, J. G., & Brooks, M. G. (1999). In search of understanding: The case for constructivist classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Dewey, J. (1938/1997). Experience and education. New York: Free Press.

Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Gardner, H. (1999). The disciplined mind: What all students should understand. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Gardner, H. (1991). The unschooled mind: How children think and how schools should teach. New York: Basic Books.

Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the imagination: Essays on education, the arts, and social change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

hooks, b. (1999). remembered rapture: the writer at work. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

———. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Kincheloe, J. L. (2005a). Critical constructivism primer. New York: Peter Lang.

Kincheloe, J. L. (2005b). Critical pedagogy primer. New York: Peter Lang.

Pinker, S. (1994). The language instinct. New York: Harper Perennial.

———. (1999). Words and rules: The ingredients of language. New York: Basic Books.

Popham, W. J. (2001). The Truth about testing: An educator’s call to action. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

———. (2003). Test better, teach better: The instructional role of assessment. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Zemelman, S., Daniels, H., & Hyde, A. (2005). Best Practice: Today’s standards for teaching and learning in America’s schools (3rd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.