Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Students, be advised that due to a faculty meeting, I will not be holding regular office hours on Wednesday, 29 February 2012.  I may be able to meet for some while afterwards; please email me for appointments at geoffrey.b.elliott@gmail.com.

Also, be advised that I will not accept any appointments for Thursday, 8 March 2012.  I will be defending my dissertation on that day, and doing so will require all of the attention I have it in me to give.

Keep up with the assigned readings and work.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sample Contrast Paper

Students, below appears an example of a contrast paper, as discussed on the course website here.  Please note that the example, when formatted appropriately for submission as a paper (which it is not as it appears on the blog), is at the high end of acceptable length for a shorter paper in ENG 101.

The typifying features of good citizens are their normal adherence to and participation in the structures of public order coupled with a willingness to set aside those structures when they become unduly oppressive or otherwise untenable.  Both Corran Horn from the Star Wars Expanded Universe and the Asimovian Hari Seldon are figured as good citizens by their respective authors.  Of the two, however, Seldon is clearly the superior example of good citizenship.

There is admittedly no question that Corran Horn is a good citizen in the Star Wars universe.  Certainly, he participates actively and amply in the structures of public order across a significant span of time.  His initial in-storyline appearance is as an officer of a local constabulary, one conducting an investigation into a kidnapping (Stackpole, Omnibus).  When he reappears in the story, he does so as a commissioned officer in the armed forces of the New Republic, one seeking entry into an elite unit (Stackpole, X-Wing 1-28).  Both his positions and the actions he takes within them quickly assert his deep engagement with the structures of public order, showing him as willing to offer his skills and his life at some of the highest levels of performance and utility to an underpinning of public order.  Some years of storyline after his attempt to enter an elite New Republic force, Horn is a ranking officer in that same force, showing that he has remained engaged with it in a substantially acceptable way (Stackpole, I 10).  Horn’s ranking as a captain represents his display of significant ability in the support of public security and order, and therefore engagement with them.  Most importantly, Horn accepts his role as a Jedi (Stackpole, I 482).  In doing so, he lodges himself firmly as a member of the core proponents of order in the Star Wars universe, so that his involvement in the supporting structures of the public is absolute.

Just as there is no question of Horn’s participation in civic structures, there is no doubt the he does, at times, set aside his participation in them to serve other ends.  During his constabulary service, he deliberately misleads an overseeing officer from higher governmental authority.  Not much later, he participates in a firefight to protect people who are themselves engaging in illegal activities, not only protecting them, but also inflicting property damage on non-combatants and allowing those he protected to escape any consequences for their participation in illegal actions (Stackpole, Omnibus).  In neither case does he adhere fully to what his participation in social structures would require, although in both cases his actions serve the greater good.  The same is true of an incident in his service among the military elite of the New Republic.  In the incident, he effectively commandeers a squadron for a run on an enemy, a contravention of military protocol and in fact a violation of direct orders (Stackpole, X-Wing 229-35, 241-42).  Even though charges against him for his breach of discipline are dropped (Stackpole, X-Wing 259-60)—itself something which smacks of a detachment from social structures—that they are brought is an indication that Corran Horn is willing to set aside the structures of public order, even though he more commonly is an avid supporter of them.  Taken together, they validate him as a good citizen.

The Asimovian Hari Seldon, however, is a better citizen than is Horn.  For instance, his participation in civil structures occurs at higher levels and is more varied than that of Horn, so that it can be spoken of as stronger.  In Asimov’s Forward the Foundation, Seldon begins as the head of the mathematics department at a major research university in the governing seat of a galaxy-spanning empire (6-7).  The position is one of some responsibility, not only in teaching—which is itself a significant civil structure—but in research and in administration; it is itself an iteration of and privileged position within a social structure, so that Seldon’s tenancy in it situates him as participating in the structures of public order.  Later in the novel, he is appointed from that position to the highest non-hereditary post in the empire, that of First Minister (112).  In a very real sense, in his appointment as First Minister, he becomes the structure of public order, so that he necessarily is a powerful participant within it, and to a degree much greater than any warrior in service, however skilled the warrior or elite the cadre in which the warrior serves.  Moreover, much later, Seldon serves as the founding editor of an encyclopedia described as being a comprehensive collection of the knowledge and understanding of the galactic empire (Asimov, Forward 456-61).  The attempt to encapsulate the sum of a society’s knowledge for its preservation cannot be anything but an intimate engagement with the structures of public order, since public order is built upon a society’s knowledge of itself.

At the same time, Seldon is regarded as setting aside normal social conventions.  Apart from common accusations that the professoriate is removed from public life or, worse, that it is aligned against civic structures, Seldon is viewed as a threat to public order.  In Foundation, he is brought up on charges of treason, not least because he asserts from the knowledge given him by years of socio-mathematic study that the empire in which he lives and which he once served so prominently is doomed to die (31-38).  As a result, he is exiled along with his followers to a world at the end of the galaxy, one appropriately named for being at the end (42).  Whatever the reason for his making the assertion—and he is correct in making them, it must be admitted—the mere facts of his statements serve to undercut broad belief in the stability of social systems, so that in making the statements, Seldon is disengaging from the structures of public order.  More than simply disobeying orders, he is undermining confidence in the ability of society to endure, which is a much stronger detachment from the structures than is bucking the chain of command.  Seldon therefore goes farther afield from the normal dictates of society than does Horn, even as he is more thoroughly engaged in those structures during his long life—even to the point of being a messianic figure.  He is therefore clearly a superior example of a good citizen.

That Seldon is the better image of good citizenship serves as a reminder that older works—and Asimov’s novels of Seldon are older than Stackpole’s works with Horn—yet have much to teach.  They provide useful standards for judgment yet, and so they ought not to be set aside blithely.

Works Cited
Asimov, Isaac. Forward the Foundation. New York: Doubleday, 1993. Print.
---. Foundation. New York: Bantam, 1991. Print.
Stackpole, Michael A. Star Wars: I, Jedi. New York: Bantam Spectra, 1998. Print.
---. Star Wars Omnibus: X-Wing Rogue Squadron. Vol. 3. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse, 2007. Print.
---. Star Wars: X-Wing--Rogue Squadron. New York: Bantam, 1996. Print.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Students, because someone tried to rob me, I am not going to be in on Friday, 17 February 2012; instead, I will be dealing with the legal stuff that suddenly needs doing.

Please keep up with the assigned readings and review the course website for information about upcoming assignments.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sample Classification Paper, Option 2

Students, below appears an example of a classification paper, option 2, as discussed on the course website here. Please note that the example, when formatted appropriately for submission as a paper (which it is not as it appears on the blog), is at the short end of acceptable length for a shorter paper in ENG 101. Please note also that it is an example of how the argument should be made; I make no explicit claims about its truth value.

Good citizenship consists of participating in the structures of public order while being willing to set them aside in the moment to be able to serve the greater ends to which those structures are directed.  That is to say it involves following the "letter of the law" in most cases but being able to set aside that letter when it conflicts with the "spirit of the law."  It would seem to be embodied handily in such characters as the Malorian Sir Lancelot.  This is, however, far from the case.

It is true that, as Sir Thomas Malory depicts him, Sir Lancelot appears to be at the pinnacle of citizenry in King Arthur's court.  As a member of the Round Table, Lancelot is among the most privileged of knights in the entire chivalric world, one of an elite one hundred fifty out of the tens or hundreds of thousands of knights in the world.  Moreover, Lancelot is ranked as the greatest of the knights of the Round Table; "all the estates and degrees high and low said of Sir Launcelot great worship [sic]," and he is called "the most man of worship in the world" (228, 415).  That is to say that he has the most renown and enjoys the highest regard among his fellow knights.  Since in Malory's text, the knight is the pinnacle of human society, Lancelot is figured as a great among greats, the summit of society under the king.

There is some justification for his fame.  Even a cursory survey of the table of contents highlights Lancelot's extraordinary work as a knight.  For instance, in the sixth of Malory's books, Lancelot delivers prisoners unjustly held, slays a giant to free a castle, and ends what early twenty-first century America would term a domestic disturbance (8).  In the ninth, he delivers other knights unjustly imprisoned (11).  In the tenth, he serves as an officer of the court, bringing Arthur's subordinate lords to him for trial and judgment (13).  In the eleventh, he fights a dragon to save a lady, an act prototypical of most conceptions of knightly valor (16).  Through the eighteenth and nineteenth, he does even more to support his social structures by defending the queen in judicial combat.  In the eighteenth book, the queen, Guinevere, is falsely accused of poisoning a knight; Lancelot's martial redemption of her redresses both the falsity of the charges and preserves the royal household of Arthur, which emblematizes his kingdom as a whole (21).  In the nineteenth, he rescues Guinevere from imprisonment by Meliagraunce (22); by doing so, he asserts the dignity of the individual and the right to not be taken unjustly, both of which are commonly-held social structures.

In one of his most famous series of fights, however, he grievously contravenes the law, both in letter and in spirit, in which violation he proves himself a poor citizen instead of a good one.  For some time, Lancelot and Guinevere had felt but largely resisted an illicit passion; the two loved one another, but because of Lancelot's vows of fealty and Guinevere's of marriage, they had not acted upon it.  At length, though, they are caught in a compromising position, one which leaves little doubt as to the impropriety of their close regard for one another (453-54).  At this point, Lancelot has been caught in adulterous treason, for in violating the sanctity of the king's marriage, he has offended against the king to whom he is sworn; it is a grievous act and one wholly unworthy of any good citizen.  And he compounds his error; in making his escape from the scene at which he is caught, he slays a number of the knights gathered to duly and appropriately apprehend him (454); he resists a largely legal arrest, and slaughters his sworn comrades to do so, neither of which bespeaks good citizenship.  He repeats the slaughter when pulling Guinevere away from her legally prescribed punishment for her complicity in treason against Arthur, killing many other knights to whom he had once been a friend and fellow--among whom were unarmed non-combatants especially dear to him (458-59).  So he violates the law, interferes with justice, and commits murder; he may once have seemed to be a pillar of the community, but he fails in the end to uphold the social structures to which he is sworn.

That Lancelot demonstrably fails to act as a good citizen insofar as he fails to fully support the structures of public order for no reason but his lust--not to serve a greater good, but only his own private ends--calls for a re-evaluation of the regard in which his character is held.  Since he is often regarded as the pinnacle of chivalry, perhaps a re-evaluation of that code of conduct is also warranted.

Work Cited
~Malory, Thomas. Le Morte Darthur. Ed. Edward Strachey. New York: Macmillan, 1899. Google Books. Google, n.d. Web. 7 February 2012.


Due to a faculty meeting, my regular office hours are cancelled on 8 February 2012.  Those needing to meet with me are asked to email me at geoffrey.b.elliott@gmail.com to set up an appointment.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sample Classification Paper, Option 1

Students, below appears an example of a classification paper, option 1, as discussed on the course website here.  Please note that the example, when formatted appropriately for submission as a paper (which it is not as it appears on the blog), is at the high end of acceptable length for a shorter paper in ENG 101.  Please note also that it is an example of how the argument should be made; I make no explicit claims about its truth value.

Good citizenship consists of participating in the structures of public order while being willing to work against them in the interest of a greater good, of being able to set aside the proverbial "letter of the law" in favor of supporting the "spirit of the law" or the underlying principles towards which the law is directed.  A number of people have asserted that Mr. Elliott is far removed from such a definition.  Those people are incorrect.

The assertions that Mr. Elliott is not a good citizen are grounded in several misperceptions.  Perhaps the most emphasized of them is that Mr. Elliott takes delight in the suffering of his students, and of other living creatures, for no end but sadism--the simple enjoyment of the sufferings of others.  And there is admittedly evidence that can be reasonably interpreted in such a way.  Mr. Elliott is prone to pointing out the failings in what he sees around him, which does tend to cause discomfort in those targeted by his criticism.  Also, his sense of humor runs to the morbid; he makes frequent reference to the eating of small animals, as in nature programs and the writings of Swift, and with evident jollity in his voice and manner.  Further, he makes specific mention of inflicting pain on people as a recreational activity--and he often comments that the recipients include the elderly.  In a view which takes his admittedly demonstrable appreciation for the discomfort of others as the dominant feature of his personality, there is no greater good to be served by his happiness at the misfortunes of others, and so he operates in a manner opposed to the underlying principles of most legal systems in the industrialized world, which assert the dignity of the individual as a core belief.

The problem with the interpretation is that it assumes that the demonstration of the enjoyment of pain is both the dominant feature of Mr. Elliott's personality and that it serves no end beyond itself.  The viewpoint relies on accepting Mr. Elliott at his word, and if it is the case that his word is to be trusted, it must also be remembered that he has on many occasions remarked that he takes his job as a teacher quite seriously.  As a teacher, and as a teacher of English, Mr. Elliott is engaged in the transmission of a specific set of cultural ideals that, while not shared among many of his students, are largely in line with the social structures in which he and they operate, both in the academic setting in which they interact specifically and in the broader social context of the United States of the early twenty-first century.  By his very vocation, then, Mr. Elliott is participating in a deep-seated and fundamental way in the structures of public order.

His specific method of teaching also evidences his dedication to social structure.  In each of his courses, Mr. Elliott distributes a detailed syllabus, a statement of the policies and procedures by which he seeks to conduct class.  Semester after semester, students find themselves adjudged by the policies to which they tacitly agree by remaining in the classes for which he produces the syllabi, with Mr. Elliott adhering strictly to the rules for himself and his students which he has set.  Additionally, he grades major assignments in his classes by stringent rubrics, even to the point of awarding good grades to students he finds personally objectionable and whose positions he finds execrable; they perform the tasks required of them by their assignments, and their performances are found satisfactory when compared to the rubric he creates, despite whatever personal feelings Mr. Elliott may or may not have.  That he allows his explicitly stated standards, rather than his gut feelings, to inform his assessment demonstrates alongside the fact of his profession Mr. Elliott's dedication to and participation in the structures of public order.

He is not, however, unthinkingly rigid in following those structures, using them to drive the education which he and others value as a fundamental social good rather than allowing the rules to stand in all cases as the sole and final arbiter of what happens in and around him.  The very standards come equipped with some room to negotiate.  His syllabi carry the comment that the policies outlined on them are subject to change.  This is primarily to account for the occasional change imposed upon him by the institutional hierarchy above him (his compliance with which is itself an indicator of his participation in structures of public order), but also allows him to adjust formal rules to suit evolving situations, should the need arise.  His course calendars carry a similar message, and with similar intent.  And his syllabi carry in many sections the explicit message that Mr.Elliott is willing to make case-by-case exceptions to his policies, so that those students who are putting forth effort but are running into difficulty have some time and cognitive space to use to get properly situated and adjusted to the demands being placed upon them.  He is therefore avowedly willing to set aside the formal rules in the interest of student learning, which is the higher ideal which his policies exist to facilitate.

Even the biting, morbid humor often cited as a case against Mr. Elliott serves to engage student learning, even if it is far removed from the usual practices of many other teachers.  Students remember the extent and specificity of criticism offered in no small part because of the wit in which it is couched, so that the unusual practice serves to drive student learning.  The supposed suffering he inflicts upon them is presented as a challenge to be overcome, which is itself another means of driving learning; while it is true that many students do complain about such things as the amount of work Mr. Elliott assigns or the specificity of his grading, those things do serve the greater educational purpose, as it is only through practice that proficiency is attained, and it is only through the receipt of correction that errors can be identified to be eliminated.

It becomes clear, then, that Mr. Elliott, insofar as he does engage with structures in the classroom even as he is willing to step aside from them to promote the learning of his students--the end goal of classroom structure--is a good citizen.  That he is one should prompt some reevaluation of what goes on in his classrooms, and in classrooms generally.