Class Report: ENGL 112, 31 July 2019

Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion turned to a brief review of the pulse surveys offered during the first three weeks of class. It proceeded thence to concerns of revision, corresponding to ongoing online discussions and to be applied to upcoming assignments, which also received attention.

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 23 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting; nine attended live online or onsite. Student participation was reasonably good. One student attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 4 August 2019:

  • Discussion: Revising and Refining (five posts or equivalent)
  • Rhetorical Analysis Essay

Students are also urged to be at work on the rhetorical strategies essay, due at the end of Week 6. (A sample is available for student reference here.) Working on it longer will allow for better results.

Sample Assignment Response: Rhetorical Strategies Persuasive Essay

One of the assignments students in ENGL 112 are asked to do in the July 2019 session, following a course redesign, is a four- to five-page “persuasion” essay that builds on the previous rhetorical analysis to see if the students can do the kind of things they’ve seen done. Students are provided a brief list of topics to address and are allowed to select others with instructor permission. They are also asked to involve at least four reliable sources, of which two are expected to come from University-accessible holdings; all are expected to be cited, in-text and at the end of the text, in APA format, and the paper is expected to conform to APA layout and usage standards. As I continue to believe that students benefit from targeted models, I think it fit not only to point to an earlier example that would still be applicable, but to generate a new one.

May we all be as productive as Kermit.
Image from, used for commentary.

Per my previous practice, I began work by setting up a properly formatted document: letter-sized pages typed in left-aligned double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman with one-inch margins; half-inch indentations; and cover page, titles, running heads, and page numbers as prescribed by APA. Because the essay is expected to be a researched one, I also made sure to set up a references page with appropriate alignment.

That much done, I remembered that I did not yet have a topic to treat. Fortunately, I’ve written about a fair number of things, many of which have gaps that needed filling; others led to different ideas yet. I recalled that I’ve often asked students to suggest changes to their curricula and that I’ve written on such things myself (witness here, among many others). Having taught many of the writing classes that DeVry offers, I am in a position to be able to speak to what its writing curriculum does well–and does less well. And that led me to a topic.

Having arrived at a topic, I ruminated upon it, and a thesis emerged from that rumination and my past work. I typed it into my document, highlighting it in green for my ease of seeing it, and I began to draft an introduction that would lead up to it. Given the need to contextualize the topic and thesis, I was also able to pull from one of the required outside sources–a primary source, in the event, so necessarily meeting the “reliable” criterion.

With a thesis and an introduction in place, I found myself in position to draft a conclusion, leading back out from the thesis to future implications. It does not normally happen thus for me; I usually move from my thesis to drafting the body of my essay, framing that body in and filling the frame in fits and starts as ideas come to me. But I had an idea for a way out of the paper in mind, and I usually have more trouble with endings than with any other part of my papers, so I took the chance to firm up my paper’s ending early on and give myself a place towards which to write as I did the rest of the drafting.

Knowing then where I would be going with my writing, I turned to the body of my essay, drafting an initial argumentative paragraph. I knew the first point to occur to me would not be the strongest one available to me, for reasons I made sure to note in the text. Accordingly, I determined to place it early in the body of the essay, making use in a short paper of the emphatic order typically prized in writing instruction (and which I recall having noted to my July 2019 session students as being good for such a circumstance). As it developed, though, the argumentative point took on additional strength; I left it in place in favor of mixed order, a variation of emphatic order I have discussed with students and often deploy in my other work.

I pivoted thence to develop another point of argument. I knew what I wanted to say in that point, having had some time to think about the argument, but I knew I needed to look for more source materials to allow me to strike a useful balance between situated and invented ethos. As such, I searched the University library holdings for information, and, finding my initial search gave me more to handle than I could, I limited myself to peer reviewed sources from 2010 onward. A few sources turned up, but, in the midst of reviewing them, another point of argument entirely came to mind, and another, and I worked on them in turn as they arose. Doing so sent me to other sources outside the University library’s holdings as it sent me to the original sources of the University’s holdings for accurate citation data, and I worked to incorporate a variety of sources of information in the hopes of better establishing my ethos.

At length, my argument made, I reviewed my work for clarity and cohesion. I then reviewed it again for style and orthography. The reviews done, I put the paper into an accessible form, which I offer here in the hopes that it will be of help for my students–and perhaps a few others: G. Elliott Sample Rhetorical Strategies Essay.

I can still use some support to draft better teaching materials.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 18: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 18

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

The next chapter, “Assassinations,” opens with notes about Chade’s efforts to rehabilitate a Forged One and to ascertain the causes and process of Forging from her. They are ultimately unsuccessful.

Fitz by FionaCreates
The young man ready to work
Fitz by FionaCreates on, used for commentary.

Fitz then begins to relate his disconnection from the stables at Burrich’s order, and the dislocation of his own life as a result. The Red-Sip Raiders grow bolder, as Fitz notes, and the people of the Six Duchies more restless. At length, Chade summons Fitz to his chambers and offers some apology for his earlier lack of engagement. He also rebukes Fitz for his dissolution before accepting his report of events and tasking him with part of Verity’s care.

Fitz ruminates on Verity and Regal, and he and Chade confer, before Chade delivers Shrewd’s assignment to Fitz. Fitz glosses over the work, offering only sketchy details of mercy killings and colder-hearted workings of justice against petty tyrants.

Fitz spends more time relating his work in caring for Verity. The older man, king-in-waiting after his brother’s abdication, has been expending himself in the exercise of Skill against the Red-Ship Raiders, aided minimally by the Skill-users Galen trained. Fitz begins to bond with his uncle, and Vertiy begins to understand what has been involved with Fitz’s training. He also reveals to Fitz what Chivalry had done to Galen, as well as what Galen had done to Fitz–but he commands patience in favor of unity within Buckkeep.

Fitz assents and offers his further assistance to Vertiy–who takes it through the Skill. Fitz suffers for it, and Verity explains by way of apology. He also notes that it was he who affirmed Fitz as a member of the Farseer family before dismissing him back to his other tasks.

Resistance to the Red-Ship Raiders, unrest occasioned by them, and preparations for Verity’s wedding all continue, as do heated discussions about them while Fitz is present. Verity’s admissions at one such discussion are heartfelt and disarming, and Fitz’s assignment to go with the wedding party is surprising. Less so is the implied assassination mission with which he is tasked, the elimination of the heir apparent to the neighboring Mountain Kingdom, which will result in Verity’s bride-to-be, Kettricken, ascending to that position.

There is something of a rite of passage, informal though it may be, in Burrich’s exiling Fitz from the stables. He has been a father-figure, after a fashion, to Fitz, and a young man leaving his father’s house is a fairly common feature of not only fantasy, but other kinds, of literatures. And, leaving, he goes through a period of dissolution commonly attributed to youths striking out on their own, as any number of complaints about “kids these days” attest. Soon after, he enters–re-enters, really–the working world for which he has been trained, even if the work is not always to his liking. But how many of us are actually always happy with our jobs?

It is interesting, too, the ways in which more of Verity’s character emerges in the present chapter. His recognition that he is not fit for the position he must discharge is one that doubtlessly resonates with many, if the myriad discussions of impostor syndrome are to be believed. It’s a wonderfully humanizing trait, and I recall being taken by it when I first read the novel. Anymore, it reads as another bit of verisimilitude among the many in Hobb’s work, but before…it informs, at least in part, my continued work with what Hobb writes.

Help me get through the sultry summer days?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 17: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 17

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

The chapter that follows,”The Trial,” opens with a description of a coming-of-age ceremony in which Fitz participates. It then shifts to Fitz conferring with Burrich about the upcoming Skill trial, which he is certain to fail due to Galen’s animus; Burrich offers some small comfort, and Fitz tends his animals before sleeping in his bed once again.
Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog seems to catch the right flavor.
I’m told it’s public domain, hosted on Wikipedia, here.

The next day sees Fitz report for his trial. He is taken out away from Buckkeep and left near Forge. Fitz immediately grows nervous, and he spends the day waiting apprehensively for either an attack or for the message from Galen he knows will not come. When he falls asleep and dreams, he dreams of an attack upon him and Burrich; he wakes, realizing it was a sending from Smithy through the Wit, and he immediately begins to make his way back to Buckkeep.

As he does so, he tries to puzzle out the attack. His ruminations distract him, and he comes under attack by Forged Ones. He manages to fight his way clear of them, fleeing and, at length, succumbing to exhaustion. When he wakes from it, he resumes his progress toward Buckkeep, finding Red-Ship Raiders making use of Forge for resupply. After tense minutes of hiding, he makes his slow way away, resuming again his return to Buckkeep–and finding himself beset by Forged Ones again.

As the Forged Ones face him, Fitz feels Smithy die through their Wit-connection. In despair and rage, he kills his attackers brutally, dumping their bodies into the sea. Drained, he returns to Buckkeep and immediately calls on Burrich. They have a falling-out over Fitz’s continued use of the Wit, and Fitz falls into a depressed, mechanical routine as Galen’s coterie begins its work. He pushes those in his life away from him, and loses track of Molly until he believes it is too late to resume his relationship with her.

The opening interlude attracts some attention from me. The ceremony described in it–“detailed” would be an overstatement–marks a rite of passage, certainly, and much is made in fiction, generally, and fantasy fiction, particularly, of rites of passage. Such rites generally do receive more overt narrative attention than the Man Ceremony does, though, and I do not recall that the thing pops up elsewhere in the Realm of the Elderlings corpus. (I could be wrong in my failure to recollect, though; getting older hasn’t helped my retention.) But what is revealed in the throwaway passage is an interesting view of masculinity as performed in the Six Duchies, and I have to wonder at its contrasts with what was going on during the writing as well as with what is going on as I read the passage again. I’m not up on the kind of gender construction/performance theory that such explication would need to rely upon, so I’ll not speak to it here–save to note that accepting a choice not to kill and not to offer food to others therefore would not necessarily play well in my part of the world, or a number of others.

As I think on it, I wonder about the rites of passage I’ve gone through. There’ve been enough of them; if nothing else, I’ve been graduated more times than most people, so there’s that. The one at the end of high school marked an ostensible passage into adulthood, but offering entry into one particular community or another…not so much. I am a member of no elite brotherhood, no pseudo-secret society that may or may not stretch back decades or centuries. (Or am I? Muwahahaha!) And I wonder sometimes what it would be like to be so. But it is an idle musing, of little moment.

Send a bit my way, please?

Class Report: ENGL 112, 24 July 2019

Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion turned to concerns of theses. It moved thence to consider rhetorical analysis before addressing upcoming assignments, notably the rhetorical analysis (of which a sample is 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 23 students enrolled, a loss of two since the last class meeting; nine attended live online or onsite. Student participation was somewhat subdued. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 28 July 2019:

  • Discussion: Analyzing Persuasive Messages (five posts or equivalent)
  • Week 3 Pulse Check

Students are also urged to be at work on the rhetorical analysis essay, due next week. Working on it longer will allow for better results.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 16: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 16

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

The next chapter, “Lessons,” opens with an in-milieu rumination on prior and then-contemporary practices of Skill instruction. It then pivots to Fitz’s resumed Skill lessons, in which he endures the hatred of his fellow students and surveys the healing injuries Galen had suffered. Fitz also notes his beginning suspicion that Galen’s instruction is nominal only and not sincere.

On the Ledge: sketch 2 by Crooty
On the Ledge: Sketch 2 by Crooty on DeviantArt;
image used for commentary.

Fitz then goes out for a bit, taking Smithy on a walk and calling on Molly. Molly comments to Fitz on Verity’s upcoming nuptials, which Fitz had not been aware of. Regal is to select Verity’s bride, and Fitz muses on the disparities between the two men’s noted interests in women. He waxes philosophical on desirable traits, and he misses an opportunity to cement his love and Molly’s in his youthful folly.

After, Fitz begins to reintegrate himself into the life of Buckkeep outside of Galen’s harsh restrictions. He also considers the relative political merits of potential brides for Verity, listening to the castle’s occupants discuss such matters and feeling shame at having, with Galen, dismissed them as ignorant fools of little account.

Fitz continues in his lessons, finding his abilities in the Skill erratic and frustrating, though present. He also continues with Molly, doing just as well with her. And the Forgings of the Six Duchies’ population continue, too, keeping people afraid and less than in awe of their rulers.

At length, Galen announces a final test for his students. They will be taken out into the Duchies and left to await a summons through the Skill. Those who answer appropriately will become a new coterie; those who do not, will not. Fitz knows he will not be, and Galen attempts once again to compel him to suicide. Smithy saves him from it.

Being as I am, I find a comment on academe in the passage wherein Fitz ruminates on Galen’s disdain for working folk. Many of the prevailing impressions of academia are…less than pleasant. (Some comments I’ve made elsewhere come to mind, as do some others I’ve made here, as well as Timothy Carens’s “Serpents in the Garden,” from an issue of College English.) There are many who view those who choose to stand at the front of the classroom in higher grades and in higher education as joyless, sadistic, hateful people who disdain all that is not their own field of study. There are many who so stand who are so, of course; it is not for nothing that the tension between town and gown is traditional. I’ve been guilty of it myself; there’ve been places I’ve been where I was far from the friendliest person, if it can be believed.

I cannot help but read in Fitz’s post-fight interactions with Galen an echo of a teacher with no love for a particular student, one who happened to be gifted and with covert prestige but not the political connections often prized, one who ran afoul of a particular parent and who continued to take petty revenge against the student. And I feel like I’ve been the teacher and the student in the situation; I wonder how long it will be before I am the parent, as well…

Can you kick in? Will you?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 15: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 15

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.
One of the Stones, image source in image, used for commentary

The chapter that follows, “The Witness Stones,” opens with musing on the Skill before pivoting to Fitz’s continued training with Galen. How the students progress is noted, as is how the seasons do, and Fitz reflects on his separation from others and his connection to Smithy.

Fitz considers his initial contact with the Skill and his certainty that he would be able to learn it. Galen is incensed by it, and more so by Fitz’s success at hiding from him such things as Chade, the Fool, Smithy, and parts of his youth. He also reflects on a meeting with the Fool not long after making that first contact. In that meeting, the Fool warns Fitz about Galen once again, noting that the Skillmaster is ruthless enough to put an end to Fitz altogether. Fitz, arrogant as youth can be, proclaims himself ready for the challenge.

In the event, he is not. During training, Galen attempts to take over his mind with the Skill. Fitz defends himself until he is wept up by the magic’s intoxicating effects; Galen uses the chance to batter him physically, bloodying him badly. The other students, seeing only that Fitz has succumbed to the Skill, join Galen in his obloquy.

In the wake of the attack, Fitz manages to drag himself to his chambers, seeking comfort from Smithy. Burrich comes to him in the night, and, when Fitz wakes, he finds that he has been tended by the stablemaster. Burrich asks Fitz what has happened, and the boy replies as he can before taking the medicine Burrich offers and falling asleep.

Fitz wakes to find Burrich in a good mood, and the mood remains in place as Fitz convalesces. At length, Fitz ventures out into town, meeting Molly and hiding his melancholy from her. Later, Burrich examines Fitz and bids him get back to his training in the castle; Fitz demurs, but a later encounter with the Fool, in which the latter explains how Burrich battered Galen into relenting in his dismissal of Fitz from Skill lessons, convinces him to resume the lessons.

One of the focal events of the chapter is one that is presented only in the Fool’s report to Fitz, that Burrich bested Galen in combat before the Witness Stones and thereby won for Fitz the right to resume his training in the Skill. Trial by combat is a mainstay of medievalist fiction, of course; a notable instance marks Katharine Kerr’s Deverry series, for example, and much is made of it in Martin. Jacqueline Stuhmiller notes in Iudicium Dei, iudicium fortunae: Trial by Combat in Malory’s Le Morte Darthur” (Speculum 81 (2006), pgs. 427-62) that it was a historically common practice, as well, at least for a time. She also notes that it was problematic; it should produce justice independent of personal ability, but it does not (any more than modern legal standards bear out guilt or innocence without regard to the parties’ pocketbooks and access to legal counsel). “God, wherever he may be, does not fight on anyone’s side in these contests,” she writes (460).

Neither, it seems, do the Witness Stones as Burrich beats Galen. This is not to say that Galen did not deserve substantial punishment for his conduct; even aside from his battering Fitz, he imposes harsher discipline on his students than is acceptable, and his uneven treatment of them by gender is far from admirable. This is also not to say that Burrich has no justification in enacting revenge for Fitz; he is as close to a dad as the bastard boy has, and, as a dad, I feel the impulse to hurt anything that causes my kid harm.

There is a clear implication that Burrich is doing something heroic, or is regarded as doing so, by administering the beating; the Fool’s narrative valorizes him, and earlier depictions of Galen make him out to be a not-entirely-petty tyrant worthy of censure and repudiation. That implication, though, is problematic in ways I have long recognized. It is not the case that the person in the right is the one who will be the victor in a fight; indeed, the very idea is repudiated as the ad baculum fallacy. Too, as someone who has been right but not in a position to prove it by arms, I am all too familiar with the disjunction. Burrich may well have been in the right with Galen–Galen was certainly in the wrong with Fitz–but his victory in the fight does not make it so.

I can still use your help.

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 here.

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?