Sample Assignment Response: A First Draft of a Researched Paper for DeVry University’s ENGL 135

Continuing on from earlier work (here, here, here, and here), I mean to narrate my process for putting together a draft of the sort students are asked to compose in their fourth week of the session. As before, I’ll not explicitly use the template provided by the University, though I will be including the prewriting students are asked to submit (and about which I have some comments, below). The results should still be similar enough to what the school requires that they will be useful for my students–and I hope they will prove useful for others, as well.

For reference, the band I’m in.
Image taken from the Hill Country Community Journal.

For the assignment, students are asked to present an introduction and an argumentative section incorporating previous research, as well as a title page and references list. Content should come after the University-determined pre-writing, which students are also expected to submit under their title page. Formal sectional division is encouraged but not required; more important is that the draft present a sound beginning and a solid thesis, and that it move smoothly forward from that thesis.

As in previous exercises, I began by formatting my document, setting my typeface to double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman and inserting running heads as appropriate. I also stubbed out spaces for the prewriting, the main text, and the references list–as well as setting up the half-inch hanging indentation required of reference list entries. That done, I copied over relevant materials from earlier portions of the project, since my title should largely remain in place, and my references entries should already have been in order. Such adjustments as I needed to make to suit the specific exercise were made–converting “Annotated Bibliography” to “First Draft,” for example.

That done, I brought over the prewriting questions from the University’s template, leaving myself space to answer them. I did what I could to keep the formatting from the template in place. The prewriting itself is not part of regular APA formatting, so its inclusion need not adhere to the standards promulgated by that body–though concerns of usage should remain consistent throughout the document as much as possible in any case.

Prewriting framed in–I did not begin with completing it for reasons I lay out below–I moved on to composition, working directly from materials I had already compiled for earlier exercises. The proposal and outline offered sound initial materials, although I did adjust them slightly to offer a more conversational narrative introduction before moving on to incorporate materials I identified in earlier exercises as offering useful context for discussion. Owing to concerns of audience, I sought to keep my paragraphs relatively short–an average of 125 to 150 words seemed a good target. (In the event, I tended to exceed that length more than to adhere to it.) I also worked to keep the reading level of my paper in and around the high school level for the same reason. (I often overshoot audiences.)

One thing I made sure to do as I moved through composition was to insert entries into my reference list as I made references to items. I have heard many students–and other writers–say they compose their references last; I have had to assign many students lower grades or begin academic dishonesty proceedings no few times because of that practice. It is not a pleasant thing to do; to avoid it happening with my own work, I make sure to build my references as I go. I commend the practice to others’ use.

As I compiled my first paragraphs, I did go back to the ostensible prewriting, filling in items that had become clear to me. I believe I have noted in this webspace that I do not compose linearly, the less so when I move between composing multiple documents as narrating my processes obliges me to do. It will not work for all, to be sure, but I appreciate the flexibility doing so offers me, as well as the authenticity it lends to my accounts. And while I did so, I made sure to align my terminology to what the school’s materials uses; I call things by different labels at times, but since the example is supposed to serve my students, it needs to follow what they are asked to follow.

After getting my introduction in place, though, I hit a bit of a snag. I found myself with a clear idea of where to take my rebuttal and refutation, and I had some means to get back into my central argument from them (and I made such notes in my prewriting materials, as well as stubbing out space for later development). I did not, however, have a clear idea of how to proceed with the direct support of my argument past that point. I imagine the situation is similar to that which my students face, and so I tried to put myself in my students’ position. As I did, I noted that the draft does not need to be a complete paper; there is more to be added in the next assignment given to the students. Knowing that I did not have to generate a full eight- to ten-page paper all at once offered some relief, though the impulse to delay unduly showed, and it was and is one that needs to be fought.

The realization in place, I proceeded to flesh out the rebuttal and refutation, working from the notes I had made and from earlier exercises. I also filled in more of the expected prewriting. I may not adhere to it as the exercise continues, but it will be useful to have something of a framework as I move ahead. And I would note the same to my students. They are not bound by their outline; it is a guideline, not a rule, to follow as needed and not otherwise.  I was at ease, then, setting up the informal sections I had ready and leaving the rest for another time.

With the content compiled and directions for further development set, the formatting was re-checked to ensure ease of reading. A review of content for style was conducted, as was proofreading. All that done, the document was rendered into an accessible format, presented here: G. Elliott Sample First Draft September 2018.

I note above that I have some comments about the prescribed prewriting. To be sure, I do a fair bit of prewriting when I work on projects of my own, and I do expect that students who want to write well will do some sort of prewriting. The specific form, however, is not something I am happy to regulate, and I have noted to students previously that they are free to use the school’s form if it helps them–and that they should back-fill it from their draft if it does not. I understand assigning a grade to the completion of the prewriting as a way to get students even to attempt such a thing. And I understand restricting options both as a cost-saving measure and as a means of easing assessment burdens. But none of that means I think it is an ideal teaching practice.

Your help will still help. Please give.

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Sample Assignment Response: An Annotated Bibliography for DeVry University’s ENGL 135

Continuing on from earlier work (here, here, and here), I mean to narrate my process for putting together an annotated bibliography of the sort students are asked to compose in their third week of the session. As in earlier posts, I’ll not be using the template the University provides its students, although what I do produce will again be remarkably similar, as the University’s template works in APA format. I still continue to hope that my remarks and the resulting document will be helpful for my future students and others’.

AnnBibScreenshot
As might be guessed from the screenshot, I’ve done some annotated bibliography work.

For the assignment, students are asked to develop an introduction and five three-part annotations; the annotations are expected to consist of an APA-style citation, a summary of the cited source, and an assessment of that source’s usefulness to the project. Annotations should be alphabetized by citation, and the sources they treat should be secondary (that is, talking about a thing rather than being the thing itself) sources of a scholarly nature. The introduction does well to note the thrust of the overall project and the methodology and rationale for source selection.

As in previous exercises, I began by formatting my document, setting my typeface to double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman and inserting running heads as appropriate. I also stubbed out spaces for my introduction and annotations, since the formatting should shift within the latter; citations take a hanging indentation, while paragraphs such as the introduction, summaries, and assessments take a first-line indentation (half an inch in all cases). I also inserted a blank line between annotation-stubs to make future reading easier. Titles and running heads were inserted as usual and appropriate, as well.

Because I had already done some work establishing a thrust for the project and laying out search methods, I worked first on my introduction. Since the project is a continuation of work already done, I brought over what I could from previous materials, incorporating the earlier work without comment. (This can only be done ethically if the carry-over is within the development of a single project, as in ENGL 135. Carrying work form term to term or class to class–say, from ENGL 112 to ENGL 135–requires citation.) Although I had cited and summarized two sources, however, I felt I should not bring them over; the idea is to find more information, rather than to re-hash information already obtained.

As such, I re-ran my initial search to bring up the results I already knew I had, and I looked again at those I had not already incorporated into the project. One such source focused on instrument maintenance, rendering it useful for other purposes than mine; another served only as the front-matter of a journal, making no argument. The third, though, looked at the decades-long endurance of one organization, suggesting that it might speak in some way to support; I read it, finding a small amount of useful material in it. As such, I drafted its citation, summary, and assessment, incorporating each into my bibliography. (Note that the citation omits database information, following current APA guidelines reported on the Purdue OWL.)

Annotating the source, however, exhausted the resources from the initial search, so an expansion of search parameters seemed in order. The first such was to open the search to articles dating back to 2008–ten years prior to work on the project and after several of the significant cultural events that continue to influence the project-present. Three more articles emerged, of which all three promised some use; all three were reviewed, and those that were found useful were included in the bibliography. As they were, notes were added to the introduction to account for the expanded search method and rationale. Further notes were added to account for an article revealed in the references of another, as well as an outside piece resulting from an additional search.

As notes and annotations were finalized, formatting was adjusted to ensure that citations were not abandoned by the rest of their annotations. A review of content for style was conducted after, as was proofreading. All that done, the document was rendered into an accessible format, presented here: G. Elliott Sample Annotated Bibliography September 2018.

I could use your help to develop better teaching materials and practices. Please give.

Sample Assignment Response: Proposing a Project for DeVry University’s ENGL 135

Following up on an earlier post in which I begin to enact the kind of project I expect my students to do (itself a follow-up on a yet earlier post), I mean to narrate my process of developing the second of the required course project assignments: a proposal and outline. As in the earlier post, I’ll not be using the template the University provides its students, although what I do produce will be remarkably similar, as the University’s template works in APA format. I do have some remarks about the assignment itself, which I include along with my resulting document, and I continue to hope that they will be helpful for my future students and others’.

Related image
Proposals have a long history.
Image from Quora.com, with an original source not as clear to me as I would like.

Students are tacitly asked to give a brief introductory paragraph before offering a formal outline for their paper. The outline takes four parts, numbered with capital Roman numerals: Introduction, Evidence, Conclusion, and References. The first two parts are divided further: the introduction treats topic, context, and audience; evidence looks at already-gathered and yet-to-be gathered information. Each part, save references, has accompanying questions to guide response; the references are directed to be in APA format. (When I set up my document, I did not copy them over.)

As in the previous exercise, I began by formatting my document, setting the typeface, spacing, running head, and page numbers as I mean them to be. Since I already had a title in place (again, from the previous exercise), I was able to insert it as appropriate, as well.

Indeed, the title was not the only thing I was able to pull directly over–and since the proposal is explicitly a continuation of the same project begun in the topic selection, doing so is expected. As such, I pulled over my references from the earlier exercise, inserting them as appropriate into the current one. Answers to such questions as I had available–partial answers for the questions of the current exercise–also got transferred over without comment and amended as necessary.

Because I had my document stubbed out, with the school-determined parts already in place, I did not feel bound to compose my responses in order. I typically do not do so, in fact, moving around projects as I have specific ideas and inserting them where I think they are appropriate. I did so in composing the proposal, the references data giving rise to what evidence I would gather and moving thence to the called-for conclusion; the conclusion, in turn, prompted me to add to my understanding of what research I need to conduct to make my case most effectively.

Only after bringing over materials and working on the end-goal did I back-fill the earlier parts, and I did not treat them in linear order, either. Secondary audience got treated early (and with recourse to my over-arching project of producing useful examples for my expected future students). Context received treatment next, with me moving back and forth between justification and my personal ethos with the project. Afterwards, I formalized my research question, working thesis, and statement of angle, revising them from parts of earlier materials in light of what I had developed in filling out the rest of the proposal.

After I had filled out the numbered parts of the proposal, I spend some time away from the project before turning to the overall introduction. I had thought that it, too, would benefit from some copy-over from my earlier work, but, as I reviewed the earlier piece, I found that it did not have what I needed. Instead, I decided to use the introduction to the project proposal to draft some work towards the overall introduction to the project as a whole (knowing as I did so that the work was provisional and might need to be discarded utterly in future iterations of project work).

Content completed, I reviewed my document for formatting and style before proofreading it for what my amid-composition corrections missed. The formatting review occasioned some adjustments, since I did not want to leave headings orphaned at the bottoms of pages. The proofreading obliged a few minor adjustments, including at least one instance of my most common typo: confusing form and from. And I took the time to adjust my title slightly, as the project had shifted a bit while I was working on it–as projects are wont to do.

With the review done, I put the file into an accessible format, which I offer here:
G. Elliott Sample Project Proposal September 2018.

I do not always favor working from a static outline; I rarely do so in my own work, although I do commonly stub out sections of projects and make notes of ideas I want to pursue at specified points in the papers I write. The problem that inheres in doing so is that, by offering a framework as a standard, such constructions often prompt writers–including, if not especially, student writers–to act as if the putative standard is the only way to organize, as well as to act as if the organization, once set, is immutable. Different projects require different organizational strategies, but the way issues are framed in standardized curricula tend to blind students to that requirement. Too, writing has to be flexible to be authentic, and, again, standardized curricula tend to keep students from seeing such truths.

At the same time, the kind of grading demands placed on instructors who teach such courses–most who do are contingent labor, working more than one job, and are teaching classes that enroll far more students than should be the case while having it demanded of them that they work toward total uniformity among sections of the course–make such measures almost obligatory. And it is the case at public colleges and non-profit schools as well as at for-profit institutions, at least in my experience, so it is not only a matter of for-profit money-making strategies (though it is among the money-making strategies, to be fair). Thus, while I conduct the present exercise, and I do expect my students to do the same (because I need my paycheck, after all), I do so with some reservation.

It remains true that my teaching doesn’t make much. Care to help support instructional quality?

Sample Assignment Response: Selecting a Topic for DeVry University’s ENGL 135

In an earlier post, I note that I ought to follow the pattern my second-semester composition students are asked to follow and work through selecting a topic and several other assignments to the generation of a conference-length paper. Doing so continues to sound like a decent enough idea, so, even though I will have to make some emendations to things in the interest of not doing students’ work for them and to keep materials that are the school’s where the school wants them, I mean to press ahead. And that means I will begin the current series of exercises with that expected of students at the beginning of the session: topic selection. After providing some context for the work, I’ll write through my process of generation and, at the end, append the resulting document, hoping that it will prove useful to my students and to others’.

Picking a topic sometimes feels like this.
Image from Giphy.com.

In ENGL 135, students are asked to work from four broad headings: Education, Arts & Culture, Technology, and the Environment. For topic selection, students are asked to first develop five questions about one of those four headings before expressing their stake in their chosen area of inquiry. They are then asked to cite and summarize two sources that offer differing views of their topic before proceeding to identify an audience to which to direct their efforts. Finally, they are asked to develop what amounts to a working thesis for their project so that, in the following weeks, they have a direction for their research to follow–even though that direction may well change in light of additional information found. The whole is to be presented in a template provided by the University; a pre-formatted Word document awaits them, and all they need do is fill in the required information in the indicated locations.

Given my worries about documentation, I’ll not be using the template provided to students. I will, however, be following the standard formatting for their assignments; DeVry University operates in APA style, so I will adhere to it as best as I am able for formatting, citation, and writing style–in the documents I prepare. (My writing in this webspace will continue to follow my usual patterns. It is explanatory rather than demonstrative.) Because I want to make sure I do that correctly, I’ll set that up first, setting my document’s type to 12-point Times New Roman, typing a title page, and setting up my running head and page numbering as appropriate. (Students are given a tutorial for how to do it, and I’ve given pre-formatted templates any number of times. Still, they have problems. I do not understand why.)

The document formatted, I then proceed to address the questions posed, taking them from the template provided to students. Working with how I tend to work, I copy the questions over from the student template and stub out spaces for my answers; I benefit from having a framework, although I deliberately keep my conceptions loose, as I expect that my ideas will change as I go through doing the work. I also make a few adjustments to formatting in the interest of easing reading. (Again, I am not working form the student template, so I have to make changes.)

With my framework in place, I then begin mulling over my possible topic. As a scholar in the humanities, my inclinations are initially towards education and arts & culture as broad headings. As a long-time educator, I have done a fair bit of work looking into how to teach–indeed, the current project arises from my desire to return to a best practice I well know. I am concerned, however, that doing a project meant to serve as an example of best practice on best practice will, in its meta-educational nature, come off as a bit awkward–particularly if my research ends up suggesting that my practice is not among the best. (If it is, it is a thing I need to know, of course, but I am not certain that this would be the appropriate venue for the revelation to be made.) So perhaps that is not the best path for me to take.

Instead, I might focus on one of the other parts of my life, the participation in the community band about which I’ve written. I know that one of the purposes of that ensemble is to help those of us who used to play and miss playing to play again; I know also that one of the things that is happening in that ensemble is that high school students who fill out the sections are benefiting from the experience of the more senior members of the organization. Because there is benefit accruing in more than one direction, it occurs to me that questions of support are relevant–and so I begin to have questions to brainstorm and fill our my self-created template.

Having developed an initial raft of questions, I move on to consideration of my own stake in the overall field. Rather, I move back to it, because my selection of the general heading and of the specific topic preceded my coming up with questions to ask. I am a member of a community band, so questions about its representation and support bear in on my membership and participation in the ensemble.

With questions and my involvement established, the time is come to get a feel for the field. Using Academic Search Complete through the school’s library, I search for “community band” in full-text peer-reviewed journals, limiting myself to a few document types (articles, book chapters, and case studies) published since 2010. Only five articles appeared, which tells me that there is much to do in my area of inquiry (and that future research will need to take a broader view–though I note there is an International Journal of Community Music that might continue to be a useful resource); I reviewed and summarized the two that seemed most amenable to the present purpose.

That done, I moved to considerations of audience. It occurred to me that there are two potential threads of discussion my paper might follow: support and representation. They will speak to different audiences. Concerns of support would be addressed to members of my local community and community groups that are in position to offer support. Concerns of representation would be addressed most likely either to the general readership of my blog or to the more academic readership of such publications as the International Journal of Community Music. The latter will rely more upon documentary information and logical development of argument than the former; the former will take more of a pathos appeal and a less intricate presentation. And such information found its way into my topic selection document.

At that point, I had almost all the content needed for the exercise, and I moved to fill out the last part, addressing my specific issue and angle. If I work on the issue of support, I will do so with an eye to getting support together for the community band in which I play now. If I work on the issue of representation, I will do so with an eye towards maintaining or enhancing the authenticity of representation. I am still not sure, though, the direction the project will take–although I tend to think that the issue of support will be more amenable to treatment than that of representation, at least within the terms of the course project I expect my students to complete. As I progress through the process through which my students are moving, I will decide more fully, but that seems the direction to start moving in.

Having made such notes in my document, I reviewed my text for overall style, glancing over it to make sure paragraph length is as it should be and vocabulary reflects the project being conceived and the materials treated so far. I also looked for typographical errors, making one or two final passes from my usual amid-writing corrections. That done, I saved the file in an accessible format, the which is included below:

G. Elliott Sample Topic Selection September 2018

I expect I will be continuing to work on this project, leading perhaps to a document I can use as a basis for other work–but, more hopefully, to a series of piece I can use to help my students do better in successive terms.

Teachers still don’t make much. Care to help offset some more of that?

Sample Comparison/Contrast Essay: Officially Better

What follows is an essay like that students are asked to produce for the C/C assignment in my section of ENGL 1301: Rhetoric & Composition during the Fall 2016 instructional term at Schreiner University. Its topic is of much the same sort as is requested of students, one echoing the earlier sample descriptive essay and the earlier sample illustrative definition essay (from which, indeed, it borrows).  It also adheres to the length requirements expressed to students; they are asked for approximately 1,625 words, exclusive of heading, title,  page numbers, and any necessary Works Cited entries, and the essay below is 1,630 words long, assessed by those standards. Its formatting will necessarily differ from student submissions due to the differing medium. How the medium influences reading is something well worth considering as a classroom discussion, particularly for those students who are going into particularly writing- or design-intensive fields.

As I note in my “Sample Illustrative Definition Essay: Official Averages,” I have been fortunate to occupy a number of academic office spaces since 2004 or 2005. My work at for-profit institutions has not been exempt from that; I have already attested to my office space at the former 56th Street campus of Technical Career Institutes (TCI) in New York City, but I also occupied office space at the Main Campus of that institution, and I have access to office space in my current capacity as visiting faculty at the San Antonio Metro campus of DeVry University. I was able to do much at the school in the Big Apple, and I am able to do much at the one in the Alamo City, so I have favorable opinions of both. However, if I examine them against what I know good academic offices must do–per “Official Averages,” “combine privacy and collegiality, feature a soothing plainness that admits of and encourages being overwritten, and ease the work of research held most vital to the mission of academe”–my office space at DeVry emerges as the better setting.

Admittedly, both my final office space at TCI and the space I have access to at DeVry have a problematic relationship with privacy. My TCI office was a cubicle in a pool shared among ten or so faculty and located at the back corner of the building’s second floor. Our schedules overlapped to some degree, so there were always others in the room. Private consultations with students and colleagues, perhaps in some sense eased by the almost hidden location of the office pool, were therefore not entirely possible; other ears were always there to hear, other eyes there to see, and not all of what was to be heard and seen was of a nature to be opened to others. As noted in “Official Averages,” there are legal issues involved with student records, and much of what is not legally privileged may well be ethically so; TCI made ensuring such privilege challenging.

DeVry offers somewhat better privacy. The office space I have there is also a cubicle in a cubicle pool–and a larger one than at TCI, with at least twenty cubicles available to faculty and others dedicated to support staff. Faculty schedules do not overlap so neatly at DeVry as at TCI, however. I am rarely encountered by more than two or three of my colleagues, and the support staff cubicles are at some remove from my own. Additionally, the cubicle pool is itself isolated from the rest of the campus by controlled-access doors, so that unauthorized entry into the room is far more difficulty than was the case at TCI, where the office door was commonly unlocked to ease the comings and goings of the occupying faculty. As such, DeVry does more to help keep confidential what needs to be, and in doing so, it offers me better office space than did TCI.

The same greater privacy, however, makes collegiality something of a concern. TCI, because it had me in close contact with my colleagues, helped me to converse with them–and because those colleagues were, for the most part, in other instructional units than mine, I had the opportunity to learn from them about matters not normally available to me. It is from such exchanges that new ideas about teaching and research, as well as the world which enfolds both, come, and TCI’s office pool did some of that for me. DeVry’s does not; the few colleagues I usually see are busy with their own affairs, as am I, and while we enjoy cordial–even friendly–discussions, we do not have the time together to go into the kind of detail that makes for new ideas. We have less chance for collegiality in part because of our physical surroundings, which I lament.

I must also confess myself less than pleased with the décor and ability to alter it in both office spaces. At TCI, my cubicle was placed in a row of side-by-side cubicles with shallow partitions between them. The space above my desk was taken up by built-in shelves. Wall space and shelf space were therefore both sharply limited, inhibiting the ability to customize either to any significant degree. Additionally, the partitions and shelves were pained a flat slate gray that stood out in sharp relief against the pale gray flecking of the associated desk surface and the standard black metal of the file cabinet assigned me–as well as the wall, painted a color somewhere between buff and khaki. As such, although all of the colors were neutral, they were neutrals that clashed; they did not form a soothing plainness so much as a jarring one, and, coupled with the inability to decorate, lessened the quality of my TCI office space.

DeVry does a fair bit better. Its cubicles are fairly standard office furniture, the cubicle walls a light gray fabric, the desktop a faux wood, the metal furnishings a pale gray or black. The surrounding walls are themselves an off-white, but one partaking more of gray than of brown. As such, the neutrals of the DeVry office pool work together reasonably well, coming off as more soothingly plan than do the disjunct colors of the TCI office pool–although the wood tone of the desk’s surface still sticks out. Further, the DeVry office materials are more amenable to customization. The fabric cubicle walls are easily reached and are of a kind that allows items to be hung upon them, as some of my colleagues demonstrate with pictures and award notices. Additionally, each of the cubicles is equipped with an integrated whiteboard. Soon after I took my cubicle, its whiteboard displayed a medievalist caricature of my face and a reasonable approximation of blackletter text announcing my name and contact information. They are touches unique to me in the office pool, bespeaking the way in which DeVry’s office space encourages customization–and in which it therefore situates itself as better office space than that I had at TCI.

Décor may well be argued a minor concern, certainly of less importance than qualities that have legal ramifications, but making intellectual work easier is far from insignificant a function of an academic office. Indeed, it can be figured as the most important such function, even at for-profit schools such as TCI and DeVry; both focus on job preparation, to be sure, but both also recognize that instruction benefits from being conducted by instructors who feel valued and supported, and that support extends to their research agendas in various forms. (Additionally, both recognize that having research-active faculty is likely to enhance their curricula and their name-recognition, both of which serve their purposes well.) As such, the fact that my cubicle at TCI did and my cubicle at DeVry does support my research work is to the credit of both.

The two cubicles do not do so evenly, however. The cubicle I held at TCI did make access to parts of my apparatus easier; having shelves above my desk made grabbing things from them easier, and that ease of access made my work faster, meaning I got more of it done. Too, the office afforded me a personal computer with library and database access, as well as some desk-space on which to put things while I worked and a file cabinet that allowed access to other materials entirely. Too, as noted above, it put me in reasonably easy contact with specialists in other fields than mine, which opened me to new and different ideas than I would have otherwise had, thereby increasing the amount of work that I could do and its quality when I did it. In brief, then, my space at TCI helped me to be a scholar, which is exactly what a good academic office should do.

Good as that cubicle was, the cubicle I have at DeVry is better. Admittedly, it does not grant me the same amount of easily-accessed shelf space–only one open shelf and one overhead cabinet compartment–but it does offer more in terms of under-desk storage–I have two file cabinet stacks–and in desk-space–the desk surface is a large L-shape some two and a half to three feet deep, while the TCI desk was a single strip a foot and a half deep. Too, the desk comes equipped with integrated lighting, which allows me to more easily examine those textual objects my work treats than did the cubicle at TCI, and I have additional storage space in the form of a private locker, so I can still have my research materials ready to hand. Add to that the fact that DeVry also provides me the same access to data (a personal computer with library and database access) that TCI did–if not more, given that DeVry’s database holdings are larger than TCI’s were–and DeVry’s office space emerges as doing more to ease my research work than the school in the Big Apple.

Thus, in terms of the combination of solitude and company, of a plain and customizable aesthetic, and of facilitating academic research, DeVry offers a better overall office space than did TCI. It has, admittedly, been some years since I worked in New York City, so perhaps matters have improved there; I certainly hope that they have. Again, I remember my time there fondly, in part because of the space accessible to me at that time, and I wish my colleagues and successors there well. But as I move forward in my own career and settle more fully into office spaces for what I hope will be the long term, I know that I will make those spaces more like what I have at DeVry University in San Antonio.

Work Cited

  • Elliott, Geoffrey B. “Sample Illustrative Definition Essay: Official Averages.” Elliott RWI.com, 21 October 2016, elliottrwi.com/2016/10/21/sample-illustrative-definition-essay-official-averages/. Accessed 10 November 2016.

Sample Final Paper: Shakespeare in Legend of the Five Rings

What follows is a conference paper like that students are asked to produce for the FinPap assignment in my section of ENGL & THRE 3333: Shakespeare: Comedies & Sonnets during the Fall 2016 instructional term at Schreiner University. As with the sample proposalsample exploratory essay, and sample annotated bibliography from which it arises (and which it echoes), its topic is slightly aside from that allowed to the students; rather than treating a single work, it treats a more general Shakespearean reconstruction, looking for what prompts continuance of the Bard in popular culture. Additionally, it deviates from recommendations of composition made to students (although recommended order and obligated content differ–and the latter is addressed). It does, however, adhere to the length requirements expressed to students; they are asked for 2,600 to 3,250 words, exclusive of heading, title,  page numbers, and Works Cited. The paper below is 2,604 words long, assessed by those standards. Its formatting will necessarily differ from student submissions due to the differing medium. How the medium influences reading is something well worth considering as a classroom discussion, particularly for those students who are going into particularly writing- or design-intensive fields.

Set in a fantastical analogue of feudal Japan and China, the Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) is a tabletop gaming property that, across the first two decades of its existence, encompassed a collectible card game, a role-playing game, miniatures wargaming, and more “traditional” table games. (As of this writing, the property is undergoing a transition associated with new ownership. A card game is promised, and a role-playing game is suggested, as being forthcoming, but what connections to earlier incarnations of the property will be in place are unclear.) Each partook of an ongoing, player-driven storyline; that is, while there was an over-arching plotline for the whole gaming property, many of the points of that plot were determined by players, whether explicitly by fiat or through results achieved by victories at major gaming events. The direct and identifiable impact on storyline by players accounted for much of the game’s popularity and the loyalty of its player base. It also commanded a rich and detailed back history for the player-current narratives to emerge from, and that, in turn, included consideration of faux-historical cultural figures frequently derived from documented history and interpretations of it. (Indeed, the name of the game itself derives from Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings, and its core rulebook is patterned explicitly on the work; no few other works are brought into the game, not seldom by name in-milieu and out.) One such faux-historical figure, Shosuro Furuyari, is a clear send-up of a particular view on William Shakespeare–one that is, unfortunately, not the most accurate view of the Bard to be found.

The focus of L5R is on the noble classes of the land of the Empire of Rokugan, the aforementioned analogue of feudal Japan and China. As noted in the core rulebook of the L5R role-playing game’s fourth edition (Carman et al., 13-71), the members of those noble classes are divided, for the most part, into various Clans and Families. The mightiest of the Clans, the Great Clans, originally descended from the divine children of the Sun and Moon, and their social roles and overall philosophies derive in large part from their founders. Each of the Clans adopts an animal totem to serve as its dominant heraldic emblem and as an overarching metaphor for the Clan as a whole. One such is the Scorpion Clan, descended from the underhanded Bayushi; its members are the spies and assassins of the Empire–its ninja–those willing to take most any means to get done whatever jobs need to get done, regardless of the stains on their personal honor. They find secrets and keep them, doing much to disguise such truths as may not be palatable or helpful–and as part of their disguising, they maintain extensive groups of actors and workers associated with acting. The set of workers includes no few playwrights, among whom is the figure of Shosuro Furuyari, acknowledged as the greatest dramatist in the milieu-–and a clear incarnation of Shakespeare.

To be fair, the nature of the tabletop role-playing game, even one with as involved a backstory as L5R, precludes full historical development. As it is, the in-game history of Rokugan is only cursorily sketched, more than a dozen centuries of material compressed into forms easily accessed by casual players (who still often find themselves daunted by the scope and extent of the material). That history occupies scores of pages across nearly two dozen books in the fourth edition of the role-playing game, some of which clarify historical circumstances for the benefit of players who wish to work in the deeper history of the game-world–as well as hundreds of other pages in the previous three editions of the game. Although the game texts are supplemented by no few works of fiction, written by the game’s writers and reflecting “official” developments of the storyline, as well as “flavor text” on any number of the associated playing cards, there is still a paucity of evidence upon which to base any assertions about in-game historical figures.

Such evidence as exists, however, serves to associate Furuyari with Shakespeare. For one, the very name of the character connects the Scorpion dramatist to the Bard. The character’s personal name, Furuyari, can be read as furu + yari–and in a language deliberately patterned after (sometimes poorly translated) Japanese. At least one meaning of furu, depending on the transliteration, is “shake,” and at least one meaning of yari is “spear.” The name therefore reads as “shake spear,” a slightly punning reference to the name of the Swan of Avon. The Bard himself was evidently aware of the joke, given what Heather Wolfe reports of his work in securing his family’s coat of arms–a spear emblazoned on the family shield, the family crest an eagle holding a spear upraised in one claw. It is a fitting name for a premiere dramatist in another milieu–how better to be shown as such than to be named with the same name as the first among playwrights?–and its deployment makes clear that the game’s writers are using the figure as a representative of the most famous of all playwrights.

Other evidence functions similarly. For example, one of Furuyari’s best known plays is One Winter’s Snowfall (Wulf et al., 32), the title of which evokes Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale. Another of his major works, Death of the First Hantei, presents a scene in which many people lie to their liege lord to ease his mind–-but one refuses to do so, noting that he will, indeed, die while the others say he will live forever (Soesbee 28); the scene evokes Cordelia’s refusal to tell sweet untruths to her father early in King Lear. A further work, The Mask, makes much of one Scoprion leader whose identity is open (the Clan as a whole wears masks as a mocking commentary on honesty and public presentations [Wick 33-34], with the Clan leader more obliged to do so than most [Wulf et al., 5]); masking and mistaken identity serve to undergird such of Shakespeare’s plays as As You Like ItTwelfth Night, and The Merchant of Venice. A focus on the topic, then, serves to link the in-game works to the traditionally canonical, thus tying the authors together in some way.

Yet another of Furuyari’s plays is described as “a three-part epic” (“Honest”), calling to mind the Bard’s three plays about Henry IV and Henry V or the triad concerning Henry VI. Still another of Furuyari’s plays is titled Father and Daughter, and the relationship between father and daughter recurs as a plot point in Shakespeare’s corpus, comedies and tragedies both; Much Ado about Nothing, earlier portions of Othello, and the aforementioned Lear are standout examples, but they are not the only ones, by any means. Admittedly, no more than snippets of the texts of the plays are available; although role-playing games are themselves necessarily associated with theater through their performative nature (as is argued at some length by Daniel Mackay), it is not often that full scripts are presented within them. But even that can be read as evocative of Shakespeare, given such theorized lost plays as Love’s Labour’s Won; the corpus ascribed to the Bard is incomplete, so having an incomplete corpus from the foremost Rokugani playwright makes the character mimetic of Shakespeare. There are clear connections, therefore, to be made between the role-playing game’s character and the Swan of Avon.

Unfortunately, the Shakespeare stand-in in L5R is a fraud, a non-existent person used as a cover for others. In its origins, the façade serves to cover over dramatists uncertain of the reception of their plays and as a convenient vehicle for the Scorpion to maneuver into positions from which to gather intelligence (Wick 36). Agrarian feudal societies do not necessarily offer much in the way of entertainment, so traveling groups of performers were likely to be welcomed warmly–and in the hours after the plays and after-parties ended, as the grateful hosts slept, the actors could creep about and find out more than had already been revealed by careful observation and drink-loosened tongues. Later, the returned spirit of a villainous figure–again, L5R is a fantasy game, one whose supplementary materials and player involvement make much of figures of the past that can explicitly and forcefully enter into the game-world of the present–assumes the identity of Furuyari, using the reverence in which the setting holds the (imagined) writer to maneuver into positions of power and influence and thence to attempt a coup against the current rightful rulers. For a time, he stands among the closest advisers of the lord of the Scorpion Clan, only to be exposed–and to confess himself as–a traitor to that lord and to the Empire as a whole (Wulf, “Master”). Subsequently, he actively works to undermine the legitimate authorities of the Empire (Wulf, “Unfinished”). That is, by posing as the playwright, the pernicious antagonist accrues influence that is then put to vile–and objectively evil, in the context of the game–ends. Neither view of the Shakespeare-analogue–and therefore of the Bard, by proxy–is favorable; it is hard to argue that either a traitor or a fraud is venerable.

There is, admittedly, some justification for the game to use a view of the Bard as a fiction in its own fiction. Some scholars hold such views; one such is Donna N. Murphy. In The Marlowe-Shakespeare Continuum: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe, and the Authorship of Early Shakespeare and Anonymous Plays, she argues that Christopher Marlowe–notable as a playwright and poet for such works as Edward IIDoctor Faustus, and “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”–is the actual author of those works ascribed to Shakespeare. She bases her view largely on commonalities of linguistic data (such as those featured in an NPR report of 24 October 2016 in which Gary Taylor, co-editor of the forthcoming edition of The New Oxford Shakespeare, discusses Marlowe’s co-authorship of the Henry VI plays) and the lack of reporting about Shakespeare by contemporary gossip-monger Thomas Nashe. Although Murphy’s stated views post-date initial revelations about Furuyari to the L5R player base, they reflect and emerge from a long-standing line of thought among some scholars and members of the general public that “Shakespeare” as Shakespeare is a longer-standing lie, that there was no such man writing poems and plays at the time–and if scholars who take early modern Englishes and their literatures as their specialized field of study can have such thoughts, then game designers working well outside that field can surely be forgiven for sharing them.

Or they can in part. Such scholars as Murphy are decidedly in the minority among those who make early modern Englishes and their literatures their particular areas of expertise; some will sidestep the question of “real” authorship entirely, citing the effect of the plays on prevailing understandings as more important than accidents of whose hand or hands put the words to their pages, while many more will note that Shakespeare was as real as any other author, citing not only the words of other contemporary and near-contemporary authors to do so, but also documentary evidence. And, indeed, the work of which Taylor speaks, work that would seem to support at least parts of Murphy’s conclusions in finding that some of Shakespeare’s work can, indeed, be ascribed to Marlowe, is explicitly presented as belying such assertions as Murphy’s; Taylor flatly states that “Shakespeare was not a fraud. Marlowe did not write all of Shakespeare’s works.” He is not alone in doing so, and as such, even if L5R has made some efforts to reflect scholarly thought (which it has, as the explicit invocation of the works of Georges Polti and Carlo Gozzi [301-08] in the fourth edition of the L5R role-playing game, its list of references included [384], and John Wick’s dedicatory comment to Way of the Scorpion [2] suggest), it has made inconsistent efforts–which is a shame for the game, which has otherwise done much well.

It might also be argued, and with some justice, that L5R is simply a game and that the assertions made in it are not to be taken as representative or directive–and the implications of it are far less so. L5R is a series of games, and there is a disjunction between the world of the game and the world that enfolds the game. Too, the contextual materials the game offers are scanty, as any simulation’s must be. But L5R is also a sprawling narrative, one that has pulled in thousands of audience members across decades, and it is no secret that the kinds of fans associated with tabletop gaming are often intense in their devotion to the objects of their fandom. As Flegel and Roth, Roth and Flegel, and Stein and Busse assert, fandoms take into themselves no small part of those properties of which they are fans, integrating with them in familial, communal ways; what the properties do exerts influence on who its fans are. Thus, what L5R does matters, and if it does things poorly, those things end up mattering.

Additionally, Gary Alan Fine remarks that broader, prevailing social structures are themselves composed of many smaller constituent parts–of which gaming communities are prominent examples, so that what they believe comes to shape how the broader systems of which they partake operate. Further, Teresa Copeland and her co-authors, as well as both Liz Danforth and Kat Werner, assert the utility of the role-playing game to the school and public library, and such experiences as present themselves in schools tend to shape all that follows. Paul Burda and Mark Silcox both independently argue that the role-playing game merits serious scholarly consideration, advancing their views for different reasons but to the same end–an end that moves aside from common complaints of the uselessness of academic studies, embedding gaming into what continues to happen in mainstream culture far removed from the tabletop. Finally, Stéphanie Daniau makes the case that role-playing games have a transformative power that enables more fully realized humanity, which makes their content potentially foundational to human experience. For L5R to put forth a view of Shakespeare that holds him a fiction–and one easily exploited for nefarious purposes–is therefore dangerous, even if the view is occluded and partial. That a thing works subtly and through suggestion does not mean it does not work, after all, as the victims of any number of half-heard rumors can attest.

Even with its problems of execution, though, L5R does engage with Shakespeare–and not only in Furuyari; for example, the plot of a foregrounded scene from a work of prominent in-world fiction closely mimics the final scene of Taming of the Shrew, highlighting a wager of obedience although taking it far further in the game than the Bard takes his characters on the stage (Wick 15-17). That it does so in Furuyari and elsewhere is itself an important thing. Among others, it reaffirms the central place of Shakespeare to the narrative communities that have succeeded him. It shows that the Swan of Avon still swims through the currents of popular consciousness in the English-speaking world, even in those eddies which may be thought to be far removed from the main stream, and it offers promise that the utility of the Bard and studies thereof are far from exhausted. More is being done in the prevailing cultural consciousness with Shakespeare, so more is yet to be done with what is being done, and both such mores offer no small hope for those who will continue to undertake academic study of the humanities.

Works Cited

  • Burda, Paul. “Roll a D20 and the Author Dies.” From Text to Txting: New Media in the Classroom, edited by Paul Budra and Clint Burnham, Indiana UP, 2012, pp. 1-14.
  • Carman, Shawn, et al. Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Game, 4th ed., Alderac Entertainment Group, 2010.
  • Copeland, Teresa, et al. “Three Different Paths for Tabletop Gaming in School Libraries.” Library Trends, vol. 61, no. 4, 2013, pp. 825-35. Project Muse, doi.org/10.1353/lib.2013.0018. Accessed 7 November 2016.
  • Danforth, Liz. “Gender and Games.” Library Journal, vol. 136, no. 13, 2011, p. 53. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=64501689&scope=site. Accessed 7 November 2016.
  • Daniau, Stéphanie. “The Transformative Potential of Role-Playing Games–: From Play Skills to Human Skills.” Simulation & Gaming, vol. 47, no. 4, 2016, pp. 423-44, doi.org/10.1177/1046878116650765. Accessed 7 November 2016.
  • Fine, Gary Alan. Tiny Publics: A Theory of Group Action and Culture, Russell Sage Foundation, 2012.
  • Flegel, Monica, and Jenny Roth. “Legitimacy, Validity, and Wriitng for Free: Fan Fiction, Gender, and the Limits of (Unpaid) Labor.” The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 47, no. 6, 2014, pp. 1092-1108.
  • “An Honest Ant.” Kaze no Shirowww.kazenoshiro.com/kazenoshiro/1/hhorant.php. Accessed 5 October 2016.
  • Mackay, Daniel. The Fantasy Role-Playing Game: A New Performing Art, McFarland, 2001.
  • Murphy, Donna N. The Marlowe-Shakespeare Continuum: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe, and the Authorship of Early Shakespeare and Anonymous Plays, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013.
  • Roth, Jenny, and Monica Flegel. “It’s Like Rape: Metaphorical Family Transgressions, Copyright Ownership, and Fandom.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol. 28, no. 6, 2014, pp. 901-13, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10304312.2014.964175. Accessed 29 September 2016.
  • Shakespeare. As You Like ItThe Necessary Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington, 4th ed., Pearson, 2014. pp. 150-89.
  • —. King Lear.The Necessary Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington, 4th ed., Pearson, 2014. pp. 656-709.
  • —. The Merchant of VeniceThe Necessary Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington, 4th ed., Pearson, 2014. pp. 74-112.
  • —. Much Ado about NothingThe Necessary Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington, 4th ed., Pearson, 2014. pp. 113-149.
  • —. Othello, the Moor of VeniceThe Necessary Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington, 4th ed., Pearson, 2014. pp. 605-55.
  • —. The Taming of the ShrewThe Necessary Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington, 4th ed., Pearson, 2014. pp. 2-41.
  • —. Twelfth Night; Or, What You WillThe Necessary Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington, 4th ed., Pearson, 2014. pp. 190-226.
  • —. The Winter’s TaleThe Necessary Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington, 4th ed., Pearson, 2014. pp. 802-44.
  • Soesbee, Ree. Winter Court: Kyuden Seppun, Five Rings Publishing Group, 1999.
  • Stein, Louisa, and Kristina Busse. “Limit Play: Fan Authorship between Source Text, Intertext, and Context.” Popular Communication, vol. 7, 2009, pp. 192-207, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15405700903177545. Accessed 29 September 2016.
  • Taylor, Gary. Interview by Robert Siegel. “Christopher Marlowe Credited as Shakespeare’s Co-Author on Henry VI Plays.” All Things Considered, NPR, 24 October 2016, www.npr.org/2016/10/24/499199341/christopher-marlowe-credited-as-shakespeares-co-author-on-henry-vi-plays. Accessed 7 November 2016.
  • Werner, Kat. “Bringing Them In: Developing a Gaming Program for the Library.” Library Trends, vol. 61, no. 4, 2013, pp. 790-801. Project Muse, doi.org/10.1353/lib.2013.0015. Accessed 7 November 2016.
  • Wick, John. Way of the Scorpion, Five Rings Publishing Group, 1998.
  • Wolfe, Heather. “Shakespeare Coat of Arms Discovery.” Folger Shakespeare Library, www.folger.edu/shakespeare-coat-of-arms-discovery. Accessed 3 October 2016.
  • Wulf, Rich. “Unfinished Business, Part II.” Kaze no Shiro, 2016, www.kazenoshiro.com/2008/10/06/unfinished-business-part-ii/. Accessed 4 October 2016.
  • —. “Master of Secrets.” Kaze no Shiro, 2016, www.kazenoshiro.com/2008/08/15/master-of-secrets/. Accessed 4 October 2016.
  • Wulf, Rich, et al. Secrets of the Scorpion, Alderac Entertainment Group, 2003.

Sample Annotated Bibliography: Shakespeare in Legend of the Five Rings

What follows is an annotated bibliography like that students are asked to produce for the AnnBib assignment in my section of ENGL & THRE 3333: Shakespeare: Comedies & Sonnets during the Fall 2016 instructional term at Schreiner University. As with the sample proposal and sample exploratory essay from which it arises (and which it echoes), its topic is slightly aside from that allowed to the students; rather than treating a single work, it treats a more general Shakespearean reconstruction, looking for what prompts continuance of the Bard in popular culture. It does, however, adhere to the length requirements expressed to students; they are asked for two paragraphs and eight three-part annotations (MLA-style Works Cited citation, source summary, and assessment of utility to the ongoing project), exclusive of heading, title,  and page numbers; the bibliography below conforms to those standards. Its formatting will necessarily differ from student submissions due to the differing medium. How the medium influences reading is something well worth considering as a classroom discussion, particularly for those students who are going into particularly writing- or design-intensive fields.

My own involvement with Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) dates back to the beginning of my undergraduate studies; a friend made early in my abortive tenure as a music major introduced me to the game, and I played steadily until moving to New York City in 2009. During that time, I participated in the in-person and online communities associated with the game, helping to steer small parts of its story through that participation and deriving no small pleasure therefrom (in addition to spending no small amount of money on doing so). Because L5R has been part of my life for as many years as it has, I have ample reason to look through its materials from time to time; it was during such a review that I ran again across the character of Shosuro Furuyari, described by various bits of the game’s narratives as the foremost playwright in the fictional milieu. From there, it was a small step to look at how the writer recapitulates beliefs about the Swan of Avon for a late twentieth and early twenty-first century gaming audience.

In pulling up critical materials on the game and its characters, I looked first through such databases as Academic Search CompleteJSTOR, and Project Muse for articles that answered to the search term “Legend of the Five Rings.” Given the niche market for L5R and the relatively limited scholarly treatment of role-playing games, generally, I did not expect to find much–and the expectation was met, revealing only a non-scholarly New York Times piece treating the game. I then expanded my search to “tabletop role-playing games,” opening my research to treatments of the genre as a whole; the search revealed more sources, although not all were useful due to being too early in publication, and others enjoyed privilege of access that prevented immediate review. Many of the latter–those showing up as most relevant by keyword search–were requested through interlibrary loan services and read, largely in the order received. Additionally, following the news that Marlowe has been credited as co-author with Shakespeare of the Henry VI plays, a search of Logan Library holdings for pieces treating the intersection of Marlowe and Shakespeare yielded one source readily available–the Murphy attested below–and another requested through interlibrary loan.


Burda, Paul. “Roll a D20 and the Author Dies.” From Text to Txting: New Media in the Classroom, edited by Paul Budra and Clint Burnham, Indiana UP, 2012, pp. 1-14.

After a brief vignette detailing involvement with a role-playing group, the chapter offers a brief history of the tabletop role-playing game and a definition of the genre taken from Daniel Mackay. Prior scholarship on role-playing games is rehearsed before Mackay’s definition is shaded against other scholarly treatments of performance and orality. The chapter then moves to posit how much of the role-playing game can be treated as literary, comparing rulebooks to theoretical tracts and instantiations of games to literary texts themselves. It also asserts that role-playing games prefigure digital media in terms of enacting deconstructionist ideas—and that they are, in fact, superior objects for the study of such theoretical approaches than the new media commonly supposed to be eminent in enacting them. Why they are is explained in some detail, and implications for teaching are noted before the chapter returns to its opening vignette to conclude.

As a serious scholarly treatment of role-playing games as objects of study, Burda’s chapter legitimates the genre. Further, although the piece focuses most on Dungeons & Dragons, it also explicitly makes mention of less-known gaming properties, which makes its arguments more readily applicable to L5R than might otherwise be the case. At root, Burda argues that role-playing games are art, and one of the things that art does is encapsulate and rework those tropes existent when it is developed. That L5R can be read as reinterpreting Shakespeare, then, becomes eminently sensible.


Copeland, Teresa, et al. “Three Different Paths for Tabletop Gaming in School Libraries.” Library Trends, vol. 61, no. 4, 2013, pp. 825-35. Project Muse, doi.org/10.1353/lib.2013.0018. Accessed 19 October 2016.

Working from the position that tabletop games are a useful educational resource and therefore to be promoted as library holdings, the article explicates how three school library staffers in the United States and United Kingdom integrate tabletop gaming into their institutions’ offerings. Copeland articulates how the pre-kindergarten-through-12th-grade school for which she works incorporates games into the whole curriculum, focusing on role-playing Homeric epic and related activities. Co-author Brenda Henderson reports on the more time-limited—but necessarily more focused—gaming activities at her school, their social ramifications, and their bridge into community involvement. Co-author Brian Mayer discusses how his institution partners with nearly two dozen school districts to facilitate integrating games into curricular and extracurricular offerings.

The article openly asserts the validity of gaming—including role-playing—as a teaching and learning tool. As such, it helps position games as exerting substantial influence on their players, particularly the younger players who encounter formalized gaming at a time in their lives when they are particularly prone to taking up ideas explicitly and implicitly indicated. The content of games is therefore singularly important—and even if L5R is not directed towards a young player-base, it is likely to be played by younger players. What it says, then, matters—even or especially if the information is inaccurate.


Danforth, Liz. “Gender and Games.” Library Journal, vol. 136, no. 13, 2011, p. 53. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=64501689&scope=site. Accessed 17 October 2016.

The article argues that libraries should encourage gaming among their patrons, whatever their gender, and notes both difficulties in and possibilities for expanding gaming among feminine library patrons. After a brief introduction, the piece moves through a discussion of the context of gaming and the complexity of the gaming environment before articulating what libraries offer to gaming communities. Notable is the article’s emphasis on the inclusive nature of the library as an institution.

Because the article makes much of the inclusive nature of libraries and positions games of various sorts—including tabletop role-playing games—as activities eminently suited to libraries, it tacitly asserts that gaming is an activity available to be enjoyed by all. As such, its messages are similarly to be made available to all; it follows that those messages, being in a position to reach many, can—and perhaps ought to—exert substantial influence on the beliefs and attitudes of a large section of the populace. Accordingly, those messages become more than merely facets of what is “just a game,” and the view of Shakespeare advanced in L5R becomes one that can potentially mislead myriad current gamers—and gamers yet to come.


Daniau, Stéphanie. “The Transformative Potential of Role-Playing Games–: From Play Skills to Human Skills.” Simulation & Gaming, vol. 47, no. 4, 2016, pp. 423-44, doi.org/10.1177/1046878116650765. Accessed 31 October 2016.

Working in part from a doctoral dissertation, the article argues that tabletop role-playing games have substantial potential benefits to groups and individuals in that they offer practice in being more fully human. After laying out the scarce but burgeoning critical context of role-playing game study, the article situates its topic in context, presents a set of typical gaming structures, describes the game’s evolution, links game theory and play skills, and explores the transformative potential of the game, citing it as a means to help people construct themselves as more self-actualized and thus better able to face the world.

Daniau offers a perspective of role-playing games as not only therapeutic objects but as formative objects for social growth and change. Such a position privileges the content of the games themselves; if they are to be among the materials used to construct the constituent parts of society, they need to be based in the best available knowledge. If they are not, then, errors are embedded in the most elemental parts of the social fabric; the tapestry cannot help but be marred thereby.


Fine, Gary Alan. Tiny Publics: A Theory of Group Action and Culture, Russell Sage Foundation, 2012.

The author argues that the small groups in which people find themselves are the primary components of the larger cultural groups typically studied, that they are, in fact, people’s principal organizational affiliations. At root, larger societies reenact the dynamics of their smaller components; the study of those smaller components, then, offers transcendent representative generalizability of ideas. In supporting the idea, Fine draws upon several previous studies he had previously conducted, with topics ranging from Little League teams to tabletop role-playing groups to the National Weather Service, laying out the argument in an introduction and nine chapters what the eponymous tiny publics are, how they form, how they function internally, how they interact, and how they extend into larger groups.

Fine is the author of one of the seminal academic studies on tabletop role-playing games, Shared Fantasy, so his comments about such games are of some importance. Additionally, by arguing that small-scale social groups, explicitly including gaming communities, constitute larger groups and that the dynamics at work in the smaller directly and substantially influence the larger, he makes it possible to argue that what happens in gaming groups has larger ramifications for society at large. What they do well works to broader benefit; what they do poorly works to broader detriment.


Murphy, Donna N. The Marlowe-Shakespeare Continuum: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe, and the Authorship of Early Shakespeare and Anonymous Plays, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013.

Murphy argues that the playwright and otherwise talented Christopher Marlowe is the “actual” primary author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. Following a foreword written by Cynthia Morgan, Murphy lays out in twelve chapters and two appendices her support for the idea that Marlowe faked his own death and continued writing under the pseudonym “William Shakespeare” to escape execution. Linguistic data taken from works by Marlowe and Shakespeare highlight commonalities of usage Murphy asserts are too close to be coincidence—particularly given the lack of attestation by newsmonger Thomas Nashe of the person of Shakespeare.

While Murphy does acknowledge that assigning authorship to early modern works definitively is problematic in part because of authorial practices of the time and the limits of documentation, she does present an extensive, peer-reviewed case against the traditional view of the Bard as sole or even primary author—or an actual person at all. While it might stretch credulity to think that a person who would expect execution by English authorities would remain in the area of London—and, indeed, in positions therein that would attract the notice of those very authorities—the book does serve as a useful counterargument to the idea that the Shakespeare presented in L5R is inaccurate. The work, and others like it, lend some validity to the view; if a dedicated scholar holds the view, one who would work with its object at some remove can surely be forgiven for doing the same.


Silcox, Mark. “On the Value of Make-Believe.” The Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 46, no. 4, 2012, pp. 20-31. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/jaesteduc.46.4.0020. Accessed 19 October 2016.

Contextualizing its discussion in a history of play since the middle of the 20th century, the article explores ideas of the innate value of pretend play—in itself, rather than as a means to another end—through filtering the ideas of Kendall Walton, Ron Edwards, and Bernard Suits. The article summarizes the ideas in order, emphasizing Walton, but it shies away from making any kind of unifying claim. In effect, the article makes the case that consideration of whether pretend play—explicitly including role-playing games—has value needs to be conducted, likely in places strange to academia.

Along with several other articles, Silcox’s piece serves to situate role-playing games as objects worth scholarly study. Such a claim should not continue to be necessary, as the strong cultural studies motion among humanistic study ought to call for all such cultural products to be taken up as valid objects of consideration. Conservatism within academe, however, still vitiates against treating many less cachet-bearing objects, and broader misconceptions about humanistic study suggest that much of what it treats is folly. Having an argument against such views suggests itself as useful in making a claim about such objects as L5R.


Werner, Kat. “Bringing Them In: Developing a Gaming Program for the Library.” Library Trends, vol. 61, no. 4, 2013, pp. 790-801. Project Muse, doi.org/10.1353/lib.2013.0015. Accessed 19 October 2016.

After a brief introduction and background for the author’s involvement in developing library gaming programs the article lays out means for setting up such programs—including those for tabletop role-playing games—and tournaments. It then addresses local impacts, means for assessing effects of such programs, challenges such programs face, and additional resources. In concluding, the article looks forward and suggests that gaming programs can be a valuable source of ongoing community outreach.

Another library-based treatment of role-playing games, Werner’s piece functions much as those of Copeland et al. and Danforth. It marks the role-playing game as a useful educational artifact, which makes the contents of each game—including L5R—vitally important.

Sample Illustrative Definition Essay: Official Averages

What follows is an illustrative definition essay like that students are asked to produce for the IllDef assignment in my section of ENGL 1301: Rhetoric & Composition during the Fall 2016 instructional term at Schreiner University. Its topic is of much the same sort as is requested of students, one echoing the earlier sample descriptive essay (from which, indeed, it borrows).  It also adheres to the length requirements expressed to students; they are asked for approximately 1,300 words, exclusive of heading, title,  page numbers, and any necessary Works Cited entries, and the essay below is 1,325 words long, assessed by those standards. Its formatting will necessarily differ from student submissions due to the differing medium. How the medium influences reading is something well worth considering as a classroom discussion, particularly for those students who are going into particularly writing- or design-intensive fields.

From 2004 or 2005 onward, I have had access to academic office spaces. Some have been private; some have been shared. They have differed in other ways, too, but some common features present themselves among several of them: Deuce-38 at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, my office at the 56th Street building of Technical Career Institutes in New York City, my office in Morrill Hall at Oklahoma State University, and my current office at Schreiner University in Kerrville. Among many others, those offices demonstrate tendencies among the best academic offices: they combine privacy and collegiality, feature a soothing plainness that admits of and encourages being overwritten, and ease the work of research held most vital to the mission of academe.

One of the things that an academic office needs to do is afford its inhabitants privacy. Those of us who work in university settings often need to confer with our students about their progress in the course, and such conferences are privileged by law; privacy becomes a concern for them in that respect. Additionally, many of us find ourselves in the position of mentoring students; they come to us with their problems–and not only those of the classroom and institution. Since some of those matters are sensitive, too, they deserve some protection, and a good academic office will offer that protection. My office at the 56th Street building in New York City was particularly useful in that regard; as noted in “Where Writes Me,” it was a rarity to have isolated institutional space (247). What the article does not note, however, is how private the space was; to reach it, I and others had to pass through an often-locked door and down a passageway through an often-empty anteroom. As such, not only did I have private space there, I had private space largely removed from the concerns of its surroundings, private space with a buffer all around it.

The office I had at the 56th Street building is an exceptional example of the privacy a good academic office should offer, but it is not the only one. The first office I had as a graduate student, affectionately called Deuce-38 after its formal designation–Room 238 in H.L. Griffin Hall on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus–was subdivided into ten cubicles, most of which were assigned to master-level students awarded teaching assistantships; my cohort entered it in 2005. I took the third cubicle on the left side of the aisle that divided the room lengthwise; doing so put me near the center of my own office and closer to the middle of the section of the building in which Deuce-38 stands. As such, I was reasonably isolated from much of the outside noise of the hallways surrounding the section, offering some privacy. Too, the cubicle walls obscured view from almost all of the other desks in the room; only the desk held by the woman who is now my wife had easy line-of-sight to mine, and she and I worked together extensively, so we benefited from the ease of access to each other and the difficulty of access by others. I benefited from having the privacy afforded even by the cubicle, as I have from that provided by other offices–and as all do who have good academic offices.

There is a tension, however, associated with the privacy of a good academic office. The academy as a whole is an institution that works in large part because it puts people into dialogue with one another. Classes help students in large part because they place them alongside other students whose backgrounds and outlooks differ from their own; they have to address the views of others to be able to advance their own, and such addresses help make their ideas better. The same is true for those who work at the front of the classroom; faculty benefit from interacting with one another, and a good academic office will conduce to that end. Such an office as what I had in Morrill 411 offers an example. As I note in an earlier essay, “Sample Profile: Morrill 411,” a large part of the attractiveness of that office space inheres in the way it facilitates camaraderie among its inhabitants; the openness of the office space and the relative plainness of its fixtures and features encouraged its inhabitants to talk to one another, developing ideas in the light of one another’s backgrounds and understandings, and enriching everyone involved. Academic offices ought to work to benefit their inhabitants, so one that promotes collegiality is better positioned to be a good one.

Morrill 411 also highlights a common feature of good academic offices–that the decor should have a plain beginning that encourages overwriting. That is, the academic office should start as a relatively neutral space into which its inhabitant can inscribe him- or herself. My current office at Schreiner University offers an example; in an earlier piece, “Sample Descriptive Essay: Filling Weir 209,” I note that the space I currently call my campus home started off as “not necessarily remarkable,” equipped with standard-issue fixtures. As I remain in place, however, more of me emerges into the room; more of the bookcase is filled with my scholarly apparatus now than was before, and to the tokens of my association with the English honor society have been added pictures of my wife and daughter. Music emerges from my workstation in a stream still being carefully curated, filling the room with sounds that ease me because they surround me with what I hear in my inward ear–and that can be silenced quickly in favor of attending to the work of the day. I continue to concede that the way in which my office presents me is fraught, of course–I stand by what appears in “Where Writes Me,” even if the students I teach now are not (for the most part) the same set of people as I taught when I wrote the CCC piece–but I am also more at ease where I am than I was before. Such ease proceeds from how my office appears, which is one of the things that the décor of a good academic office ought to foster.

The most important thing that an academic office does, however, is facilitate the work of the academy–and that work inheres chiefly in the development of new knowledge and understanding. Indeed, part of the value of both privacy and collegiality, which good academic offices evidence, and part of the value of the decor of an academic office being what it is are that they make doing the work easier; privacy affords space in which to work, collegiality exposure to ideas to test the new knowledge being developed, and the background and fixtures shut our distractions and provide the relaxing comfort that allows work to flow well. More than that, though, a good academic office should convey an overall sense that it is a place to work, that it is a place where intellectual inquiry can be conducted and its results compiled into a form where others can see them. Such has been the case for my own offices. I wrote my master’s thesis largely at the desk I held in Deuce-38; much of my doctoral dissertation was written while I sat at my desk in the 56th Street building at Technical Career Institutes (including one day that saw me churn out a solid draft of the entire conclusion of my dissertation); no few conference papers and calls for them were drafted at my desk in Morrill 411, as well as many of the same kind of essays as this one; and I continue that work in Weir 209–as others do similar work in other good academic offices.

There are other factors that make for good offices, to be sure. Having any set of them, though, helps us know what to look for in our own spaces.

Works Cited

Sample Exploratory Essay: Shakespeare in Legend of the Five Rings

What follows is an exploratory essay like that students are asked to produce for the Expl assignment in my section of ENGL & THRE 3333: Shakespeare: Comedies & Sonnets during the Fall 2016 instructional term at Schreiner University. As with the sample proposal from which it arises (and which it echoes), its topic is slightly aside from that allowed to the students; rather than treating a single work, it treats a more general Shakespearean reconstruction, looking for what prompts continuance of the Bard in popular culture. It does, however, adhere to the length requirements expressed to students; they are asked for 1,300 to 1,625 words, exclusive of heading, title,  page numbers, and any necessary Works Cited entries, and the essay below is 1,527 words long, assessed by those standards. Its formatting will necessarily differ from student submissions due to the differing medium. How the medium influences reading is something well worth considering as a classroom discussion, particularly for those students who are going into particularly writing- or design-intensive fields.

Set in a fantastical analogue of feudal Japan and China, the Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) is a tabletop gaming property that, across the first two decades of its existence, encompassed a collectible card game, a role-playing game, miniatures wargaming, and more “traditional” table games. (As of this writing, the property is undergoing a transition associated with new ownership. A card game is promised, and a role-playing game is suggested, as being forthcoming, but what connections to earlier incarnations of the property will be in place are unclear.) Each partook of an ongoing, player-driven storyline; that is, while there was an over-arching plotline for the whole gaming property, many of the points of that plot were determined by players, whether explicitly by fiat or through results achieved by victories at major gaming events. The direct and identifiable impact on storyline by players accounted for much of the game’s popularity and the loyalty of its player base. It also commanded a rich and detailed back history for the player-current narratives to emerge from, and that, in turn, included consideration of faux-historical cultural figures. One of them, Shosuro Furuyari, is a clear send-up of a particular view on William Shakespeare–one that is, unfortunately, not the most accurate view of the Bard to be found.

The focus of L5R is on the noble classes of the land of the Empire of Rokugan, the aforementioned analogue of feudal Japan and China. As noted in the core rulebook of the L5R role-playing game’s fourth edition (Carman et al., 13-71), the members of those noble classes are divided, for the most part, into various Clans and Families. The mightiest of the Clans, the Great Clans, originally descended from the divine children of the Sun and Moon, and their social roles and overall philosophies derive in large part from their founders. Each of the Clans adopts an animal totem to serve as its dominant heraldic emblem and as an overarching metaphor for the Clan as a whole. One such is the Scorpion Clan, descended from the underhanded Bayushi; its members are the spies and assassins of the Empire, those willing to take most any means to get done whatever jobs need to get done, regardless of the stains on their personal honor. They find secrets and keep them, doing much to disguise such truths as may not be palatable or helpful–and as part of their disguising, they maintain extensive groups of actors and workers associated with acting. This includes no few playwrights, among whom is the figure of Shosuro Furuyari, acknowledged as the greatest dramatist in the milieu–and a clear incarnation of Shakespeare.

To be fair, the nature of the tabletop role-playing game, even one with as involved a backstory as L5R, precludes full historical development. As it is, the in-game history of Rokugan is only cursorily sketched, more than a dozen centuries of material compressed into forms easily accessed by casual players (who still often find themselves daunted by the scope and extent of the material). That history occupies scores of pages across nearly two dozen books in the fourth edition of the role-playing game–as well as hundreds of other pages in the previous three editions of the game. Although the game texts are supplemented by no few works of fiction, written by the game’s writers and reflecting “official” developments of the storyline, there is still a paucity of evidence upon which to base any assertions about in-game historical figures.

Such evidence as exists, however, serves to associate Furuyari with Shakespeare. For one, the very name of the character connects the Scorpion dramatist to the Bard. The character’s personal name, Furuyari, can be read as furu + yari–and in a language deliberately patterned after (sometimes poorly translated) Japanese. At least one meaning of furu, depending on the transliteration, is “shake,” and at least one meaning of yari is “spear.” The name therefore reads as “shake spear,” a slightly punning reference to the name of the Swan of Avon of which the man himself was evidently aware, given his work in securing his family’s coat of arms (Wolfe). It is a fitting name for a premiere dramatist in another milieu, and its deployment makes clear that the game’s writers are using the figure as a representative of the most famous of all playwrights.

Other evidence functions similarly. For example, one of Furuyari’s best known plays is One Winter’s Snowfall (Wulf et al., 32), the title of which evokes Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale. Another of his major works, Death of the First Hantei, presents a scene in which many people lie to their lord to ease his mind–but one refuses to do so (Soesbee 28); the scene evokes Cordelia’s refusal to tell sweet untruths to her father in King Lear. Yet another of his plays is described as “a three-part epic” (“Honest”), calling to mind the Bard’s three plays about Henry VI. Admittedly, no more than snippets of the texts of the plays are available–although role-playing games are themselves necessarily associated with theater through their performative nature, it is not often that full scripts are presented within them. But even that can be read as evocative of Shakespeare, given such theorized lost plays as Love’s Labour’s Won. There are connections, therefore, to be made between the role-playing game’s character and the Swan of Avon.

Unfortunately, the Shakespeare stand-in in L5R is a fraud, a non-existent person used as a cover for others. In its origins, the façade serves to cover over dramatists uncertain of the reception of their plays and as a convenient vehicle for the Scorpion to maneuver into positions from which to gather intelligence (Wick 36). Agrarian feudal societies do not necessarily offer much in the way of entertainment, so traveling groups of performers were likely to be welcomed warmly–and in the hours after the plays and after-parties ended, as the grateful hosts slept, the actors could creep about and find out more than had already been revealed by careful observation and drink-loosened tongues. Later, the returned spirit of a villainous figure–again, L5R is a fantasy game–assumes the identity of Furuyari, using the reverence in which the setting holds the (imagined) writer to maneuver into positions of power and influence and thence to attempt a coup against the current rightful rulers; for a time, he stands among the closest advisers of the lord of the Scorpion Clan, only to be exposed–and to confess himself as–a traitor to that lord and to the Empire as a whole (Wulf, “Master”). Subsequently, he actively works to undermine the legitimate authorities of the Empire (Wulf, “Unfinished”). That is, by posing as the playwright, the pernicious antagonist accrues influence that is then put to vile–and objectively evil, in the context of the game–ends. Neither view of the Shakespeare-analogue–and therefore of the Bard, by proxy–is favorable.

It might be argued, and with some justice, that L5R is simply a game and that the assertions made in it are not to be taken as representative or directive–and the implications of it are far less so. L5R is a series of games, and there is a disjunction between the world of the game and the world that enfolds the game. Too, the contextual materials the game offers are scanty, as any simulation’s must be. But L5R is also a sprawling narrative, one that has pulled in thousands of audience members across decades, and it is no secret that the kinds of fans associated with tabletop gaming are often intense in their devotion to the objects of their fandom. As Flegel and Roth, Roth and Flegel, and Stein and Busse assert, fandoms take into themselves no small part of those properties of which they are fans, integrating with them in familial, communal ways; what the properties do exerts influence on who its fans are. For L5R to put forth a view of Shakespeare that holds him a fiction–and one easily exploited for nefarious purposes–is dangerous, even if the view is occluded and partial. That a thing works subtly and through suggestion does not mean it does not work, after all, as the victims of any number of half-heard rumors can attest.

Even with such problems, though, the fact that L5R does engage with Shakespeare–and not only in Furuyari; for example, the plot of a foregrounded scene from a work of prominent in-world fiction closely mimics the final scene of Taming of the Shrew, highlighting a wager of obedience (Wick 15-17)–is itself an important thing. Among others, it reaffirms the central place of the Bard to the narrative communities that have succeeded him. It shows that the Swan of Avon still swims through the currents of popular consciousness in the English-speaking world, even in those eddies which may be thought to be far removed from the main stream, and it offers promise that the utility of Shakespeare and studies thereof are far from exhausted. More is being done, so more is yet to do, and that offers no small hope for those who will continue to undertake academic study of the humanities.

Works Cited

  • Carman, Shawn, et al. Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Game, 4th ed., Alderac Entertainment Group, 2010.
  • Flegel, Monica, and Jenny Roth. “Legitimacy, Validity, and Wriitng for Free: Fan Fiction, Gender, and the Limits of (Unpaid) Labor.” The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 47, no. 6, 2014, pp. 1092-1108.
  • “An Honest Ant.” Kaze no Shirowww.kazenoshiro.com/kazenoshiro/1/hhorant.php. Accessed 5 October 2016.
  • Roth, Jenny, and Monica Flegel. “It’s Like Rape: Metaphorical Family Transgressions, Copyright Ownership, and Fandom.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol. 28, no. 6, 2014, pp. 901-13, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10304312.2014.964175. Accessed 29 September 2016.
  • Shakespeare. The Taming of the ShrewThe Necessary Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington, 4th ed., Pearson, 2014. pp. 2-41.
  • Soesbee, Ree. Winter Court: Kyuden Seppun, Five Rings Publishing Group, 1999.
  • Stein, Louisa, and Kristina Busse. “Limit Play: Fan Authorship between Source Text, Intertext, and Context.” Popular Communication, vol. 7, 2009, pp. 192-207, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15405700903177545. Accessed 29 September 2016.
  • Wick, John. Way of the Scorpion, Five Rings Publishing Group, 1998.
  • Wolfe, Heather. “Shakespeare Coat of Arms Discovery.” Folger Shakespeare Library, www.folger.edu/shakespeare-coat-of-arms-discovery. Accessed 3 October 2016.
  • Wulf, Rich. “Unfinished Business, Part II.” Kaze no Shiro, 2016, www.kazenoshiro.com/2008/10/06/unfinished-business-part-ii/. Accessed 4 October 2016.
  • —. “Master of Secrets.” Kaze no Shiro, 2016, www.kazenoshiro.com/2008/08/15/master-of-secrets/. Accessed 4 October 2016.
  • Wulf, Rich, et al. Secrets of the Scorpion, Alderac Entertainment Group, 2003.

Sample Narrative Essay: Learning on the Fly

What appears below is a sample of the kind of paper students in my Fall 2016 section of ENGL 1301: Rhetoric & Composition are asked to write here. Its topic is one that would likely need discussion, although it would likely receive approval if requested. It does, however, adhere to the length requirements expressed to students. They are asked for approximately 1,300 words, exclusive of heading, title,  page numbers, and any necessary Works Cited entries; the paper below is exactly that length as assessed by those standards. Its formatting will necessarily differ from student submissions due to the differing medium. How the medium influences reading is something well worth considering as a classroom discussion, particularly for those students who are going into particularly writing- or design-intensive fields.

I have not always taught at the college level; I began college with the idea of becoming a band director, and when I switched my major to English, I did so seeking certification to teach high school. As part of that pursuit, I spent a semester student-teaching at Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, Texas. Standing near where Monticello Park shades into Maverick and Donaldson Terrace, located on Donaldson Avenue not far off of Babcock where it approaches Fredericksburg, the school focuses on a lovely building built by the old Civilian Conservation Corps. Decorated within and without by intricate carvings and inlaid tiles in variegated colors, it does show its age, to be sure, and the work of bored, delinquent students upon it—but I nonetheless reached it gladly each morning, knowing it to be a good place to do the last little bit of work before I began my teaching career.

Typically, when I went to work at the school, I would wear a button-up shirt without a tie (my throat swells when I speak as classrooms call me to do, and ties threaten then to cut off the flow of blood to my brain) and a pair of slacks—and I still felt underdressed for the building, even as the teacher who graciously allowed me to use his classes for my own learning typically appeared in jeans and others on campus dressed no less casually. I was anxious about my professional status, then, having not yet earned my certification or my baccalaureate, and I knew that presenting a polished appearance to my students would do much to help instill a sense of respect for me and for the work I tried to do with the classes I taught—six sections of regular-level senior English.

Then as now, though, I did not want my students to be so much in awe of me that they dared not speak. Too, then as now, I wanted them to feel the same joy in English language and literature that I do—and, since senior English at Thomas Jefferson High School then treated British literature, I was particularly motivated to make the joy and delight of the subject matter known. Even then, I knew I would be treating it at length in my career to come, although I did not yet know my doing so would take me to graduate school in Lafayette, Louisiana, and to a career beyond. And so I did what I could to embrace laughter and wordplay, cracking wise in the classroom as often as the material and circumstances would allow. With Chaucer, the Greatest of Geoffreys, I could often do so. With Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and with Malory, less so, but I still did what I could to find and push forward my delight in the work.

Advancing it, though, did not always go so well as I would hope. The early class, still waking up and filled to overflowing with more than thirty students crammed into a classroom meant to hold twenty-five, and having no few students whose command of English, by chance or by choice, did not permit jokes to go over well, did not laugh so much as I did. Second period, disrupted by demanded oaths and announcements, often had problems finding its rhythm again after the class resumed. Third period was given to planning and draining the last dregs of each morning’s thermos of coffee. Fourth period was usually pretty good about getting the jokes, or at least getting that there were jokes, and several of the students produced remarkably sensitive, astute work; that I reached them, I know, and I wish I had been able to remain in contact with some of them across the intervening decade. Fifth period, following lunch, was generally good, if perhaps a bit sleepy with bellies full. Sixth period, smaller by far, was almost always on top of matters—if punctuated unpleasantly by two students with mouths smarter than their heads. Seventh period, with seven students, might be quiet, but it was the kind of quiet that comes from deep consideration and understanding, and I appreciated having such an end to each teaching day.

So it happened one morning that I had gone to work wearing a white shirt and blue slacks, and I was teaching as I normally did, going over some of Shakespeare’s sonnets in much more sedate fashion than I do anymore. (I know more now, or I flatter myself that I do, and I can speak of things with college students that I cannot with high schoolers.) Even so, I launched any number of jokes, chiefly puns and what I thought were sly commentaries, presenting texts in unaccustomed accents, towards my students as I moved about the room, gesticulating wildly as is my wont—and they laughed! Oh, how they laughed! Shoulders heaving as head dropped to desks or into hands to shake while cradled, the students guffawed and bellowed and brayed; some even snorted, and their doing so gave me pause. I stopped to share their laughter and resumed my work, sending out comment after comment to what seemed acclaim. If I recall correctly, one student even slipped out of his chair and onto the floor, and one or two might have had to run to the restroom against the gales of mirth that blew about the class.

For forty-five minutes, I kept such things going, and in the last five, as students began to pack their things to flee from my room to those of other, more established, more staid instructors, one of them—a student whose good-natured smart-alecky commentaries often offered me pushing-off points for my own—came up to the lectern on which I leaned to catch my breath again and still my mind to present materials to the next class.

“Mr. Elliott,” he said, for I had not yet earned my higher titles then, “I need to tell you something.”

“What’ve y’ got?” I asked in reply, suddenly sobered—for the students at Thomas Jefferson High School face circumstances that are often not optimal, often not as any of us would have them be, and the words he spoke were given me in a tone hollower and lower in pitch and volume than his usual rolling jollity.

“Well, sir,” he said, and his neck and cheeks began to flush red, “well, your, well,” and, trailing off, he pointed downwards at me. My eyes followed his finger’s gesture, looking behind the lectern and towards the front of my pants.

My fly was open.

My shirt stuck through it.

I had taught the entire class with a bit of my white shirt emerging through the front of dark blue slacks.

I had not noticed.

I felt a flood of heat in my own chest and neck and cheeks, a sudden fever in my forehead, and I knew I did a fair imitation in that moment of the flag of the Netherlands. I spun quickly, facing away from the class—even though I was behind a solid lectern and so concealed, and even though I had had a banner of peace and surrender emerging from the front of my pants for all of my students to see—shoving my shirt back through the open fly and zipping it tightly closed.

I turned back to the student just in time to hear the bell ring and the din of students flooding the halls, rushing out of the classroom—he was already on his way out of the door, and as he cleared the threshold, I heard the twittering of laughter and the lower ululations of others’ mirth—not because of the things I had said, but because of what I had left undone that day and not again since.