Day 341: Multiethnic Literature

This semester I am experimenting a bit with alternative teaching and writing formats in my course on Multiethnic Literatures of the U.S. I have created a course blog that will be (at some point–hopefully) pretty much completely student-run. Students are signed up as contributors/authors and will post short responses, as well as longer critical essays on novels. The point of the blog is to ensure that students don’t simply write each paper in one long all-nighter every four weeks. Instead, I want them to be responsible for taking care of and respond to outside comments on their writings (and to each others’ posts). This will hopefully get them into a regular writing routine, which, so I hope, will result in more carefully framed research questions and more complicated critical arguments.

I therefore invite all of you to visit this blog and participate in the discussions, since even very brief comments, ideas and, criticism will help them think through problems more critically. To that end, this blog will not only focus on literary and cultural issues, but also invites students and outside readers to discuss the social and political problems that are mediated by cultural production. The general topic of my course this semester is “race, diversity, neoliberalism.”

You can visit the blog here:

Check back often for constantly updated student writing (the first batch of papers will be posted next Thursday)–we all greatly appreciate your feedback. Also, feel free to spread the word about this, send the url to people you know, or maybe even advertise the blidget (the blog is also available as a blog widget for your own blog, facebook, etc.)–this would help us a lot and hopefully ensure that we get some outside comments. Thanks–cj



  1. Great idea, CF. I hope it works better than my ill-fated attempt at integrating the web interactively into the history course I was teaching a few years ago. Well, I’m not sure how anything could go as poorly as that did. I’ll be sure to check up on it.

  2. Thank you caveblogem. I’m still hopeful at this point. What exactly was the nature of your (negative) experience?

  3. cerebraljetsam,

    I was trying to stimulate discussion, and also to push students into writing things that other people would read, so that they might pay more attention to rhetoric. To stimulate discussion, I had students read an article by Howard Zinn, (chapters from A Peoples’ History of the United States, actually, and post a reaction to it on a listserve. Then we would discuss the article in class the next day. Then they were to post a reaction to the class discussion of the article. Then they were supposed to choose a post written by another student and respond to that, too. Then we would start with the next article. This just didn’t work well. Students found it difficult to disagree with one another, or to interact with the text, or with me, or with anything else. They told me they really liked the class, but I think that was because I tried to take grading off-the-table–as long as they posted, I didn’t focus on quality or relevance. The one time I pointed out that one of the students was being irresponsible, in a remark about Hillary Clinton, she felt picked on. So I found myself in the Chair’s office for the first time that semester.

    The second visit to the Chair’s office originated from my strategy to get them to think of their writing as relevant and visible by others outside the class. I asked them to read large sections of Paul Johnston’s A History of the American People, and at the end of the semester, after discussing it at length, asked them to post short reviews on Then I checked the site to look at their reviews. The reviews were the worst sort of junk. No support for opinions that were superficial and, worse, looked as if they had crafted them in an attempt to please me. I was just trying to get them to think, and they thought I was trying to make them Marxist robots. Then, at the end of the semester, the Chair called me into his office again to show me a letter written by some psychology professor from the University of California. The guy was irritated because my students had lowered the ranking of the book at Amazon substantively with their reviews. So I had to write a letter to him explaining that my experiment in getting students to think went horribly wrong.

    This was the same semester that I had to take my oral exams for the second time, being the only student in the history of the University who failed their orals.

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