Thursday, January 29, 2009

West Reflection, Due: Wednesday, February 4, 2009


As you read through Cornel West’s chapter from Democracy Matters titled, “The Deep Democratic Traditions in America,” I want you to pay attention to the two types of democratic paradigms—or models—that West pinpoints as important to the restoration of democracy in America.

In an essay, I want you to answer the following questions for reflection:

· Where does democracy begin according to West? What is currently threatening the original spirit of democracy upon which the United States was founded?

· What are the two paradigms and who inspired them? How would you define their respective philosophies according to West? Who does West cite as modern day literary and political models for the different democratic philosophies?

· What, ultimately, must we do to sustain and nurture the original spirit of democracy upon which West bases his argument for its restoration?

Each question should be answered in paragraph form and you should make sure to either quote directly from or paraphrase West in constructing your response.

I know that some of West’s language may be confusing, but that’s where the dictionary steps in to help you understand him.

Any questions, ask in class. Meanwhile, be sure to check the MLA writing guidelines I handed out to you in class to understand better the ways to quote, paraphrase, summarize, and argue.

May the force be with you,

Brother Peach, FSC

A possible thesis statement to get you started at the end of your intro paragraph as discussed in class on Friday:

As West would have it, democracy is upheld only when individuals within a democratic society live according to a philosophy of self-reliance and self-discovery. The ultimate aim of democracy is to challenge social ills such as prejudice, racism, and violence to bring about peace and justice.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Holiness Code for the Ages

Bros: Below is an unrevised, draft copy of an essay I threw together Saturday morning to provide you with a model for how you could go about constructing your own essay response to the reflection prompt distributed last week. Don't forget, the assignment is due Tuesday, January 27, 2009 in class on hard copy. See syllabus for formatting guidelines.
Bro. Rob Peach, FSC
Bro. Rob Peach, FSC
ENG 165 / Writing the Essay
27 January 2009

King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail: A Holiness Code for the Ages

Intro paragraph (sets the stage for what is to come by defining key terms; introducing the subject of the essay, MLK and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”; giving some background info on what MLK was all about; and the thesis statement in bold below)

Essentially, the term "social justice" refers to an ideal that upholds a system of fairness within a given society. It operates from a platform of equality on the basis that all are guaranteed rights to dignity and freedom regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. Martin Luther King, Jr., the great civil rights leader of the twentieth century, proffered a sense of justice inspired by the biblical messages of his Christian faith. His own spirituality and that of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)—which he cofounded and which jump started the movement to end segregation laws in the American South—was informed by the Exodus of the Old Testament and Christ’s journey toward Calvary in the New Testament. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King protests the apathy—the ‘do-nothingism’ as he says (42)—of the white and black moderates who sit idly by while the Negro community of the American South and elsewhere endure the injustices of segregation, inadequate wages, and violence. King states, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience” (40). It is white-on-black violence, the indifference of the moderates, and the despair which ensues such injustices in the Negro community that informs King’s “holiness code” of just law, tension, civil disobedience, and non-violent direct action.

Transition paragraph (serves to guide the reader, reminding him or her of the major topics to be discussed with regard to the subject of the essay MLK’s holiness code according to his “Letter…”)

The term “holiness code” refers to the laws set forth in the Book of Leviticus. These teachings were collected and put in the book by priest-writers known as, Deuteronomists, to illustrate true worship of God through just and compassionate relationships (Peach). If one were to construct a holiness code based off of King’s letter, it would involve a summary of his statements on what constitutes a just and unjust law, the need for tension as well as civil disobedience, and the efficiency of non-violent direct action.

Body paragraph (develops major theme of King’s address, namely what makes an unjust law)

King begins his address with a statement on ways in which a law can be unjust. He writes, “A law is unjust, for example, if the majority group compels a minority group to obey the statue but does not make it binding on itself. By the same token, a law in all probability is just if the majority is itself willing to obey it” (40). He goes on to say that the law cannot be just if the minority did not have a part in the voting process which devised the law. He refers specifically to the situation in Alabama in which “all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters” (King 40). King adds that a law considered unjust is rightfully protested if done so peacefully, in a loving way, and “with a willingness to accept penalty” (41). Such action is ironically a show of highest respect for the law (King 41). The primary systemic evil that King protests in the 1963 letter is that of segregation, a law enacted without the consent of the entire community and one that deserves protest by way of peaceful assembly of blacks and whites who rightfully consider the laws of segregation unjust.

Second body paragraph (addresses another major theme of King’s address, namely what makes non-violent direct action and why it is so important in confronting violence)

For King, the best way to confront the status quo—too easily perpetuated by the indifference of white and black moderates—is non-violent direct action, another aspect of his holiness code. The purpose of such action is negotiation according to King: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue” (39). King stresses the fact that he has “earnestly opposed violent tension,” adding that “there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth” (39). In other words, King is saying that in order for the community of blacks and whites to come together and work for a common bond of friendship and negotiation, there must be created a situation that dramatizes the inherent injustice of segregation. Thus enters the methods of doing so: sit-ins, marches, boycotts, speeches, and letters.

Third body paragraph (addresses the problem of racism in today’s world, using some basic references to modern day issues that involve racism)

What started with a civil rights demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama led to a million man march on Washington that incited President John F. Kennedy to enact laws to end segregation in the South. Regardless, racism is still a problem in the twenty-first century. Because “civilized” man has inherently aggressive tendencies, the contemporary societies of the world are ever threatened by their own demise. By unfolding the pages of human history we are not hard pressed to find ways in which aggression has manifest itself in the form of such evils as racism, genocide, and war. Some brief retrospective reflection teaches us that these manifestations overlap, presenting to us a picture of racism as the chief thread weaving through the blinding veil of violence. The racial implications of the Janjaweed’s ruthless assault on non-Arab Muslim Sudanese in Darfur, as well as the United States military intervention in Iraq and other parts Middle East such as Afghanistan are explicit historical realities that form the fabric of this veil currently blanketing the twenty-first century world. More implicitly, we see the violence of racism prevalent in the United States criminal justice and prison system (the majority population of which is black and Hispanic), as well as in the hardships experienced by Hispanic immigrants attempting to shape a familial and societal identity in a “free” country that ironically complicates their access to citizenship by police action and bureaucratic acrobatics. With such realities, we are all challenged to reassess what we can do in our own lives to profess a faith of justice and compassion—in biblical terms, a “Shema.”

Concluding paragraph (addresses my own Shema, based off of the subject of the essay: MLK and his letter; notice that, because the quote from him is more than four lines long, I place it in a "block" on its own)

If I were to create a “Shema” or profession of faith in which I stress what is most important to living a just and compassionate life, it would simply echo the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. … Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. … Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. (39)

As it is with King’s call to justice in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, so it is with my Shema. It is nothing more than what the great prophets of biblical times encouraged their communities to do: to live tenderly and walk humbly before my God.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Syllabus: Major Assignments (tentative/subject to revision)

Week of: January 19 – 23
No classes Monday
Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
Purchase black, Moleskin journal (may be lined, unlined, or graphed) at BNN or Border’s
Purchase other course materials
Check for materials on Friday, January 23
Choose five of your top choices for reading from Rohr’s Wild Man
Assign King reflection, due: Tuesday, January 27

Week of: January 26 – 30
Cornel West, “The Deep Democratic Tradition in America” pp. 63-105
Due Tuesday: Reflection, King (25 pts.)
Assign West reflection, due: Tuesday, February 3

Week of: February 2 – 6
Leo Tolstoy, “ ‘Notes for Soldiers’ ” pp. 32-39
Due Tuesday: Reflection, West (25 pts.)
Assign Tolstoy reflection, due: Tuesday, February 10

Week of: February 9 – 13
Dorothy Day, “Preface,” “Introduction,” “We Scarcely Know Ourselves,” “Beginnings” pp. xi – 15
Due Tuesday: Reflection, Tolstoy (25 pts.)
Assign Day reflection, due: Tuesday, February 17
No classes Friday

Week of: February 16 – 20
No classes Monday
Thomas Merton, “Blessed are the Meek” pp. 14-29
Due Tuesday: Reflection, Day (25 pts.)
Assign Merton reflection, due: Tuesday, February 24

Week of: February 23 – 27
Madeleine L’Engle, “The Night is Far Spent” pp. 1-15
Due Tuesday: Reflection, Merton (25 pts.)
Assign L’Engle reflection, due: Tuesday, March 3

Week of: March 2 – 6
Joseph Campbell, “The Self as Hero” pp. 111-133
Due Tuesday: Reflection, L’Engle (25 pts.)
Assign Campbell reflection, due: Tuesday, March 10

Week of: March 9 – 13
Richard Rohr, selections, From Wild Man to Wise Man
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Campbell (25 pts.)
Assign Rohr reflection, due: Tuesday, March 17

Week of: March 16 – 20
Saint Augustine, “Book II” of Confessions pp. 24-34
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Rohr (25 pts.)
Assign Augustine reflection, due: Tuesday, March 24

Week of: March 23 – 27
Thomas Merton, “Firewatch” pp. 349-362
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Augustine (25 pts.)
Assign Merton reflection, due: Tuesday, March 31

Week of: March 30 – April 3
Henry David Thoreau, “Where I Lived and What I Lived For” pp. 57-68
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Merton (25 pts.)
Assign Thoreau reflection, due: Tuesday, April 7

Week of: April 6 – 10
Eudora Welty, “Finding a Voice” pp. 73-104
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Thoreau (25 pts.)
Assign Welty reflection, due: Tuesday, April 14
No classes Thursday through Monday

Week of: April 13 – 17
No classes Monday
Flannery O’Connor, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction” pp. 63-86
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Welty (25 pts.)
Assign O’Connor reflection, due: Tuesday, April 21

Week of: April 20 – 24
Samuel Hazo, “The Power of Less: Poetry and Public Speech” pp. 1-16
Due Tuesday, Reflection, O’Connor (25 pts.)
Assign Hazo reflection, due: Tuesday, April 28
No classes Thursday and Friday

Week of: April 27 – May 1
Mumia Abu-Jamal, selections from, Live from Death Row
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Hazo (25 pts.)
Assign Mumia reflection, due: Tuesday, May 5

Week of: May 4 – 8
Essay in Pictures, see handout and PowerPoint presentation
Due Tuesday, Reflection, Mumia (25 pts.)
Assign Memoir, due: Tuesday, May 12
No classes Friday

Week of: May 11 – 15 (Senior Finals Week)
Due Tuesday, May 12, Memoir (100 pts.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ENG 165 / Writing the Essay
Bro. Robert Peach, FSC
Second Semester, 2009

A Prefatory Note: Course Philosophy

I have a hard time with the name of this course, Writing the Essay. I find it somewhat confining because of the word, “essay.” It connotes the sort of dread and boredom that comes with the daunting prospects of having to write yet another paper, project or assignment—whatever you want to call it—for Mr. Whoever or Mrs. Whatsherface.

Admittedly, the name is appropriate since the aim of this course is to put together words and ideas to make sentences and paragraphs that expose or communicate a unifying theme or subject of discourse. That’s the nature of essay writing, yes.

But, what about the thing that’s actually required of the person who is writing? What about that secret life in all of us that inspires and motivates? What about the nature of the things we are actually observing, speculating and writing about? How keenly are we actually listening to the pieces of narrative—that is the stories or essays—constantly taking shape within and around us?

That’s what this course is about: composition, “the act of combining parts or elements to make a whole.” It’s about creating something and therefore has everything to do with possibility. Writing, composing, involves the making of something as yet unseen, unheard, or unwritten. That said, if I were to rename the course, I think I might call it something like, Composing Possibility: Essay as Narrative, or, Writing to Learn, or, Composing the Essay. There is something misleading about the drab, Writing the Essay. I don’t think it communicates very well the nuances of what writing is really all about: conversation, experience, movement, consciousness, intellectual ability, art, the senses, feeling, reason, faith, hope, love, and truth.

That’s a lot, write? Heh, I mean, right?

Well, at its most basic, this course is to provide us with models for good writing from expert writers in fiction, poetry, public speech, and essay who speak mostly in prose, as we will hear from them, and are approaching a range of subjects from the vantage point of various disciplinary backgrounds: philosophy, politics, psychology, spirituality, and theology. As renowned writer of the American South, Flannery O’Connor, says in a collection of lectures called, Mystery and Manners, “One thing that is always with the writer—no matter how long he has written or how good he is—is the continuing process of learning how to write” (83). And so we all—myself included—are to approach this course with the same objective, to become something better than what we were previously as thinkers and as writers. It’s on ongoing process of revision, but one that no one deeming himself a student of writing or a writer, for that matter, can escape.

Whatever we write—be it the formal paper for a class, the college application essay, the piece of poetry, or the work of fiction—is an autobiography, reflecting some piece of our individual histories, our prejudices, and the cultures in which we have grown up. Whether you are conscious of it or not, your choice of language and the subject matter you choose to address in a piece of writing gives you and your audience a glimpse into your deeper self—that bit of being that no one gets a chance to see on a regular basis. That is the beauty of writing in whatever form; it gives us the chance to reflect and, in reflecting, to respond to those deeper insights that churn inside of our mind and heart.

This course is thus undergirded by a philosophy which espouses the written word as a creative means to navigate previously unforeseen territory in our individual consciousness. In this way, writing becomes a vehicle for self-expression—not so much a chore as an opportunity to travel, to re-create, and to simply “be.”

That said, I challenge you to take this course as a way to access those deeper parts of self, to explore the world around you through the written word, and to develop a language for yourself that bespeaks a hidden reality behind that persona—i.e. that “front”—we all put up on a daily basis, either because we are too caught up in the “busy-ness” of life or because our ego tells us there is no use for the reflective space which writing provides.

But that’s just it! It is through writing that histories are written and that the “business” of the world is both communicated and carried out.

So, let your histories speak through this course and beyond the bounds of this classroom. Let the world hear your voice.

Introduction: Course Objective

“Writing the Essay” is to serve as a foundational course for college writing. With focus on the development of both vocabulary, argument, exposition, and style in writing, the course aims to provide upperclassmen with an adequate basis for thinking more critically and analytically—a skill set that will be of crucial importance in the collegiate environment. After all, good writers make good thinkers.

The course will involve the study of writers including (in no particular order): Samuel Hazo, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Thomas Merton, Cornel West, Martin Luther King, Jr., Madeleine L’Engle, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Mumia Abu-Jamal, St. Augustine, Richard Rohr, and Joseph Campbell.

By the example of such expert writers, we will discuss the nature of writing as revelatory—of revealing to us things, in their essence, that too often go unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. These writers have much to offer us in the way of reading deeply into our experiences and becoming deep thinkers—as writers—ourselves. We will therefore use these writers as models for our own writing.

Each week, I will assign a text or texts to be read from a self-made reader. I will concurrently assign a 25 point written reflection of no more than three pages in response to the assigned readings. There are about thirteen essays that we will read, which will take us through the semester.

There will be a major writing assignment due at the end of the semester that is worth 100 points.

I will assign journal and online weblog, or blog, reflections periodically throughout the semester as well. Such assignments usually total no more than 10 points each.

Course Material Requirements:

A three-ring binder with your name, my name, course number, and semester indicated on the front cover or inside front cover. It will be crucial that you have this as a text covering for the materials (i.e. “fun-packs”) that I will assign. There will be many!

A black-bound, Moleskin journal (purchase from BNN or Border’s).

A manila folder with your name, my name, course number, and semester indicated on the front cover or insight front cover.

A black or blue pen for journal assignments.

Course Rules:

Read, read, read! Underline, underline, underline! Highlight! Jot notes in the margins of your text! Respond to comments the authors make in your journals! Imitate!

Listen attentively to instructor and classmates when they are speaking.

No foul language. No racism, agism, sexism, homophobia, or otherwise. This is a setting that promotes diversity, tolerance, and the non-violent peace teachings of Christ. Make the Beatitudes your attitudes!

Come to class on time. While I allow for some free conversation before class gets underway, I expect your full quiet and attention by the time prayer starts. If you have any poetry or reflections you would like to use for prayer, please let me know, and we will use that to get things started.

I will not accept any excuses for late assignments without an automatic five-point penalty for each day an assignment is late. I will not accept anything that is untyped.

I think that’s it. Again, please take this course seriously. If you elected to be here then expect to work. We are dealing with materials that are on the caliber of an honors-level course. Consider yourselves budding scholars and take yourselves seriously!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Your Life in a Snapshot: Writing the Memoir

mem⋅oir –noun
1. a record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation.
2. Usually,
a. an account of one's personal life and experiences; autobiography.
b. the published record of the proceedings of a group or organization, as of a learned society.
3. a biography or biographical sketch.

ad⋅o⋅les⋅cence –noun
1. the transitional period between puberty and adulthood in human development, extending mainly over the teen years and terminating legally when the age of maturity is reached; youth.
2. the process or state of growing to maturity.
3. a period or stage of development, as of a society, preceding maturity.


Throughout the course of the first semester, we have discussed the importance of memory in writing. It is a function that allows us to make meaning of our experiences, which essentially define who we become not only as writers, but specifically as story-tellers. Even in the context of formal essay or academic writing, there is a story to share.

Eudora Welty's memoir, One Writer's Beginnings, reads like a series of photographic snapshots. This makes sense, considering she was a photographer at one point in her life. Indeed her memoir is a composite whole of many parts, bits and pieces of her life taken together to form a seamless autobiography.

Taking a tip from Welty and a professor I had in grad school, Dr. Richard Wertime,for a course on the adolescent experience in American and British literature, I would like you to write a brief memoir--a minimum of three pages / maximum of five--in which you capture a decisive or transformative adolescent experience that "you" have had. The experience can be a positive or a negative one, or some mixture of both--there's no limit on how extreme the experience you depict might be.

This effort should be:
a. written in first-person singular voice
b. drawn from your own personal experience
c. as realistic and true to the way the event happened as humanly possible

Please give me a typed hard copy in the following format:
12 pt. Georgia font
Double Spaced
1" margins all around
Header (aligned right) with last name and page number

Please format your front page with the proper heading:
Your Name
My Name
Eng 165 / Writing the Essay
Date Due

Please include a creative title, centered directly below your header

The assignment is due in my mailbox on Thursday, January 15, 2009. No exceptions for late submissions. You will receive a zero.

This assignment will be out of 100 pts. I will use the typical rubric, which includes a total of 20 pts. for each area of critique: Meaning, Development, Organization, Language, Mechanics.

Any questions, please feel free to axe.

Brother Robert K. Peach, FSC