Class Report: ENGL 112, 17 July 2019

Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting, discussion turned to concerns of genre, patterns of organization, and essay-building before looking at assignments.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 25 students enrolled, a net loss of one since the last class meeting; ten attended live online or onsite. Student participation was reasonably good. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 21 July 2019:

  • Profile Essay (a sample is here; please submit through Canvas as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf file)
  • Discussion: Getting Started Writing (five posts or equivalent)
  • Week 2 Pulse Check

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 14: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 14

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series soon.

Related image
Not quite right, but the right idea.
Image from, used for commentary.

The next chapter, “Galen,” opens with a brief discussion of the eponymous character’s background. It moves thence to gloss over the progress Fitz and Patience make with one another before Fitz’s Skill lessons begin. Fitz also notes his time with Molly, citing it as pleasant and helpful.

The night before his lessons begin, Fitz is summoned by Burrich. The stablemaster cautions Fitz about Galen and reminds him that his use of the Wit may well be revealed by the Skill. He relates a story of Galen having accused a girl of the Wit, having beaten her to death, and having it proven acceptable by way of the Witness Stones.

The next morning sees Fitz report for instruction. The other students, including one of his legitimate cousins–August–are noted, and Galen, upon his entrance, is described in detail. It is not a pleasant description, and Galen soon demonstrates himself to be an unpleasant person, more than a strict taskmaster and desirous of total control over his students’ lives.

Training begins and continues harshly, abusively. Fitz finds himself on the receiving end of the cruelty more than once. The Fool offers him some help with Smithy and a cryptic warning as the chapter ends.

A few things stand out for me in this reading, appearing below in no particular order:

  • There is a clear implication from the initial background information and from earlier materials in the novel that Galen is himself a bastard and a royal one, the illegitimate child of Shrewd’s second queen and one of her staff. It makes the comments about bastards, particularly Farseer bastards, being denied training in the Skill all the more ironic. Fitz wears his bastardy openly; he can hardly not. Galen’s is hidden, and he perhaps overcompensates for that in his treatment of Fitz–although trying to assess the psychology of a fictional character is not perhaps the most apt thing.
  • In the present chapter, there is also reinforcement of the implications of a closer relationship between Burrich and Chivalry. As Burrich seeks to warn Fitz of the threat Galen poses, he speaks of loving the late King-in-Waiting–and of Galen’s obsession with Chivalry. The connection between the stablemaster and Fitz’s father seems to be set in the same mode as that of Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, but that relationship is also frequently read as homoerotic. (A 2004 issue of Modern Fiction Studies addresses the matter, for example, as do any number of other scholarly works.) So that is of interest.
  • The Witness Stones emerge as being of note in the present chapter. They are seen as a site offering divine, final justice for those who pleased their cases before them. They play larger roles later in the novel and throughout the Realm of the Elderlings corpus, but having them noted as they are offers yet more foreshadowing, following along with one of the major themes of Hobb’s series.
  • Galen’s name invites comment. Though it does not function as such within the milieu, it does evoke a figure revered in medieval European conceptions of antiquity; it contributes to the medievalism that invites reading the Six Duchies as a refiguring of medieval northwestern Europe in the Tolkienian tradition, though other readings remain far better. Hobb’s Galen is no healer, certainly; the opposite is true, offering another bit of irony in the character. He does pass on stagnant teachings, though, which offers at least some point of correspondence.

Don’t be so severe; send some support here!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 13: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 13

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The chapter that follows, “Smithy,” opens with a compiled assessment of Patience’s character before shifting to her attempting to instruct Fitz. The efforts go oddly, and Fitz is struck by the visual cacophony of her chambers, but recently occupied. Patience suddenly gives Fitz a puppy, to which he takes an instant liking and by which he is distracted as she continues to quiz him about himself.

Untitled (?) piece by Marta on Tumblr, used for commentary.

Patience dismisses Fitz for the day, and Fitz mulls over what to do with the dog, encountering the Fool along the way. The two confer, first about the dog’s name–which will be Smithy–then about Patience and Chade before the Fool absents himself. Fitz considers Smithy more closely, then, and resumes his lessons. Patience’s attendant, Lacey, urges him to do something to please her, and Fitz ends up painting pictures of Smithy that take her aback. She continues to quiz him, though, and remains dissatisfied with his answers. She realizes, too, how much like his father Fitz is, and is taken with sorrow at his loss.

I am not certain I know what to say about the chapter. It does a fair bit to explain the character of Patience, certainly, but I find the character difficult to understand. That is perhaps my positions of privilege at work, though; I have not suffered what she is reported to have suffered, and my still-too-affective reading sympathizes with her even as it does not allow me to empathize with her. I do take some comfort, though, in the fact that the narrating Fitz is as confused by her behavior as I am, though it is not much; if I am not more perceptive and insightful than an adolescent, being far beyond my own adolescence, I have other problems altogether.

The confusion brings up the issue of engagement, though. I press on with reading because I know it has rewards, even with writing that’s not as good as Hobb’s. I know that many don’t, though, and that encountering confusion in the writing turns people away from it. I’ve had enough students make the comment to me that I cannot help but believe it. My response to them, as it is in many circumstances besides, is that if there is no challenge, there is no reason to improve. That I am challenged, even now, by understanding a character, that tells me I still have room to improve. I have places still to grow, even in what I am supposed to be able to do well. (And, with three degrees in English and years of teaching college English, I ought to be able to read pretty well, right?) Instead of letting that be a rebuke to me, and I could let it be a rebuke to me, I see it as a hopeful sign. There is more for me in what I have long loved, there is more for me to find, and searching for it makes me a better person.

It’s not the only thing, either.

Hammer out some support for me?

Class Report: ENGL 112, 10 July 2019

For the first class meeting of the session, discussion opened with introductions to the subject, course, and instructor. It then turned to concerns of writing as a recursive process before beginning to talk about upcoming assignments–namely the profile, of which a sample and discussion are available here.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 26 students enrolled; 11 attended live online or onsite. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 14 July 2019:

  • Discussion: Introduction
  • Discussion: Elevator Speech (five posts or equivalent)
  • Discussion: Profiles (five posts or equivalent)
  • Week 1 Pulse Check

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 12: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 12

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

Untitled (?) piece by dancynrew (Annie) on Tumblr,
used for commentary

The next chapter, “Patience,” opens with an in-milieu reflective musing on the Red-Ship raiders before moving into Fitz’s continued encounters with Patience–during which he is ignorant of her identity. In one of them, he is intoxicated although not fully drunk when she finds him; in the next, the next morning, she quizzes him over his learning and finds his responses unsatisfactory.

Burrich returns from a trip and has Fitz report events to him. That, and a tour of the stables, reveals to Burrich that Patience is present, and he relates an anecdote detailing Patience’s eccentricities. He also remarks to Fitz that he does poorly to try to conceal his follies, and adds with some aspersion that Fitz has a talent for attracting attention he should not.

Chade rebukes Fitz similarly later on. The older man then waxes eloquent about Patience’s character and the strange match between her and Chivalry Farseer. He also notes that Patience has sued Shrewd to ensure Fitz’s appropriate education, which Chade sees as a mixed blessing. It does gain them the chance to have Fitz learn the Skill, the ancestral Farseer magic. It had been forbidden to Chade because of his own bastardy, and Fitz guesses–wrongly–that Chade is Shrewd’s son. He is, in fact, Shrewd’s brother.

Fitz’s prospective teacher, Galen, is discussed; reports do not paint a good picture of him. And Fitz lets slip that he talks with the Fool at times before receiving warnings from Chade that Galen hates Fitz utterly, and that Chade cannot see where the instruction in the Skill will take place.

As I read the chapter again, noting a passage wherein Fitz considers the Skill against the Wit in what Burrich had told him, I find myself considering the juxtaposition of the two Hobb sets up. While it is certainly the case that what is reported is not the same as what is, even within Hobb’s texts, there is something to be said about asserting that Wit and Skill are antithetical. There is some sense in it, admittedly; what the novel has shown of the Wit to the present chapter is that it is an innate thing, much as the ability to respond rapidly and with aplomb usually called “wit” is, and the implication that the Skill takes no small amount of training to deploy corresponds there, as well.

The thing is, though, that wit relies for its effectiveness on the respondent having a large base of knowledge from which to draw, both to see connections and from which to formulate responses. Similarly, skill requires a fundamental facility with the thing to be trained. Neither is wholly independent of the other, in the end (and more about the entanglements emerge later in the Elderlings novels). So that dichotomy is frustrated, even from the beginning.

Too, there is the issue of the Wit as metaphor for homosexuality. Again, I think it breaks down as the novels progress, but I begin to see some breakdown even here. If the Skill is the opposite of the Wit, if what is trained is the opposite of what is innate, well, then, what is the opposite of homosexuality? The obvious answer would be heterosexuality, but that does not appear to be quite as constructed as the metaphor would position it as being. A better answer might be asexuality, though I do not believe that to be any more constructed than homo- or heterosexuality is. (Or less, to be fair.) Perhaps celibacy, though that is also…frustrated (if the pun may be forgiven). It’s something to be considered–if the metaphor is to be maintained. It may well not be, though.

Can you show me some love?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 11: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 11

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The next chapter, “Forgings,”opens with an extended musing on the legend of the Pocked Man in the Six Duchies; the figure is one cursed by El, one of the two gods the Duchies appear to acknowledge, made into an undying harbinger of pestilence whose appearance is a portent of doom. It pivots to comment on Fitz’s return to Buckkeep from his mission to Kelvar, which is onerous and highlights Chade’s skill in maintaining the fiction of Lady Thyme.

Coming of the Red-Ship by Sassar
Coming of the Red-Ship by Sassar on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

There is some comfort for Fitz, though; his efforts with Lady Grace meet resounding success and acclaim. Verity’s bachelorhood is noted, with Burrich commenting that Verity having a wife will do much to comfort the people of the kingdom. Verity himself, however, is distracted by the increasing Red-Ship raids and more Forgings. Popular responses to the attacks are sometimes harsh but understood as inevitable and necessary. The lack of a cohesive response from the Kingdom, however, sits ill with the populace, as Chade notes to Fitz during one of their late-night sessions.

Chade also comments with some aspersion about the politics in the Farseer dynasty, noting Verity’s deficiencies against the current situation (he “was raised to be second, not first,” and it shows) and Regal’s continued pampering. And Fitz’s regular lessons continue as Buckkeep girds for war, even if it does not yet strike out at its attackers.

Fitz is, however, able to resume his friendship with Molly. They talk together of the popular reaction in Buckkeep to the Forgings, as well as the anger building against Shrewd for his inaction. And in the wake of a conversation with her, when Fitz returns to the castle and scrounges a meal against the budding growth of his adolescent body, he encounters a noble woman not known to him. They make one another awkward, and Fitz leaves the encounter feeling a fool.

There is a fair bit of foreshadowing in the chapter, some of it working over longer terms within the novel than others. (Little if any of it extends to the other novels in the series.) Again, the idea of prognostication is one that pervades the Realm of the Elderlings novels, so its appearance in the present chapter is not a surprise. The cliffhanger of the meeting with the noblewoman, though, which is an instance of foreshadowing is somewhat annoying; it reads to me at present as a division-spanning item that might have done better in another place. Then again, strange events occur at jarring times, and the inclusion in its present position may well be a nod to that.

To return to the comment in the previous entry about the parallel between the Red-Ship raiders and current-to-this-writing perceptions of immigrants, there is a point in the chapter at which Molly notes to Fitz that local merchants have banded together to hire their own guard-ships. She comments that it may be a clever move on the part of Shrewd to allow them to do so, since they spend the money and he does not, and it may well be that. But there is also a parallel to near-current events, such as the ultimately racist and too-often too-close-to-Nazism militias that currently work ill on the southwestern border of the United States (and it’s always that border, not the much longer one at the north; I wonder [sarcastically] what the difference is). The book is decades old at this point, so there is no way it can be commenting on such events, but the parallels in the present reading are a bit much to ignore.

Realizing such is the case, I’m beginning to be uncomfortable with the novel in a way I was not before. I’m going to continue the re-read, of course; I try to carry through the projects I begin, although I am not always as good about that as I would like to be. But I have to acknowledge the shift in how I regard the work. I am not the reader I was when I first encountered the book; I am not even the reader I was when I was an aspiring scholar, working on the series for my master’s degree or turning to it again for conference papers and book chapters while I was working on my doctorate. I know more things than I did then, and I know differently the things I knew then. The opinions I form upon re-encountering things cannot help but differ, therefore. Many people seek to deny that they do; they try to regard things as settled when, ultimately, they are not. The failure to recognize such undergirds or informs a great many problems; I am glad to have the reminder, however small, that I ought not to make that particular mistake again.

Like what you’re getting? Go ahead and send some help along so that I can keep giving it to you!

Reflective Comments for the May 2019 Session at DeVry University

Continuing a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the March 2019 session at DeVry University, and following closely the patterns established in previous practice, comments below offer impressions of class performance among students enrolled in my section of ENGL 135: Advanced Composition during the March 2019 session at that institution. After a brief outline of the course and selected statistics about it, impressions and implications for further teaching are discussed.

Students enrolled in ENGL 135 during the May 2019 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. Most were directed towards the generation of a conference-length paper; some reflected ongoing discussion activities, and one was a simple online quiz. Those assignments and their prescribed point-values are below, with relative weights shown in the figure below:

ENGL 135 Grade Breakdown

Point values sum to 1,000.

Homework and presentations were assessed by adaptations of University-provided rubrics. Discussions were assessed through an instructor-developed rubric.

The section met asynchronously online, with online office hours generally being held Mondays at 6pm, US Central Time. Its overall data includes:

  • End-of-term enrollment: 12
  • Average class score: 778.5/1000 (C)
    • Standard deviation: 207.476
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 5
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 2

Numbers of students receiving each of the traditional letter grades are indicated below:

ENGL 135 Student Grades

Since the class met online, attendance was not assessed.

The May 2019 session is the last session taught on the model of the course with which I had been familiar. I had thought I would be teaching it again sooner than has proven to be the case, so I thought I would need to develop new materials in haste. I am glad I do not have to, though I will still miss getting to use the work I have done. So there is that.

I note with some joy the high percentage of A-earning students in the class; as many aced it as made below a B in the class. I am not given to grade inflation, certainly; looking back at previous reflections (such as this one) shows that I am willing to issue no A grades, and I have more often been accused of being a harsh grader than an easy one. The May 2019 session had a number of students in my class who made a point of consistently doing more work than they were asked to do, and I felt I should reward that additional work. It seems to have helped several of them along.

As has traditionally been the case in my classes, the chief cause of low grades among my students was that they didn’t turn in their assignments. I continue to operate under the restrictive late-submission policy from earlier sessions–namely, I do not accept late work outside certain narrowly prescribed and individually assessed circumstances–and some students ran into that. Many such dropped the class before the end of the session; I started the session with 26 on my roster (which is more than a writing class should have, but which is common, nonetheless).

Still, as ever, I am glad to have had another opportunity to put to work those skills I spent so long developing. I am glad, too, that another awaits me, and I can hope it will go as well next time as it did in the present session.

Additional Comments for the July 2019 Session at DeVry University

Since making initial comments about the session, I’ve had some additional information come up about my work in the July 2019 instructional session at DeVry University.  Namely, I’m only teaching one course this time around–ENGL 112: Composition.

Related image
Image from The Scribe’s Desk,
used for commentary.

The reduction in the teaching load does not mean all has changed, of course. The session still spans 8 July to 31 August 2019. On-site meetings for the class will still be Wednesdays at 1800 US Central Time in Room 105 of the San Antonio Metro Campus. Synchronous online sessions will still occur at the same times; sessions will still be recorded for later viewing. Office hours will still be online on Mondays at 1800 US Central Time; other meetings may still be made by appointment. And I still I appreciate having the chance to do this again.

Review of materials in the interim has shown me a few things about the course’s new assignment sequence. I am lucky in that some of what I have developed for my previous session teaching the course remains viable. There is still a profile essay called for, as well as a rhetorical analysis. Prior materials about the profile are here and here; those about the rhetorical analysis are here and here. I link to them again in the hopes that they will continue to prove useful to my students as they progress along their own work.

One of the larger shifts in the course is the alignment of the last two major assignments to a single topic. (There is mention of a course project as a separate assignment, but it does not appear in the gradebook, and it is not supported by other materials; I think it is a holdover from earlier iterations of the course.) I’ve still got some work to do on them, both in generating examples and in setting topics–for the assignments, a short essay and a short presentation, both work from a set of prescribed topics in the University’s online course offerings. The topics are decent enough this time; I’ve noted in such places as this my dissatisfaction with prior topic selections, but I think that is not the case with the new stuff. I still want to add more options, though, if only because I expect I’ll need other available topics if and when I teach the class again. My fallback, and probably the area in which I will develop the examples for the July 2019 session, is curricular reform. (I’ve floated the idea before, here and elsewhere. I’ll likely borrow from the older materials to generate the newer.) We’ll see how it goes over this time.

Over the next weeks, then, in and around posting class reports (since there are synchronous meetings, it makes sense to do them again) and adding to the Robin Hobb Rereading Series, I’ll see about getting the necessary examples and other materials put together. Even if I no longer put instructional materials together in the hopes of landing an academic job, I do still enjoy the work, and I do still think others benefit from seeing it out in the world. It is some comfort, at least.