MnWE News Late Fall Issue
Next Conference: Zoom and Minn.
Humanities Center, St. Paul, Th.-Fr., Apr. 7-8, 2022
View this or previous issues in your browser.
In this issue:
MLA WRITING CONTEST: GUIDELINES FOR A+ PAPERS
Analysis: PMLA–DO WE FACE “THE END OF ENGLISH”?
Teaching: DEALING WITH DISTRACTING STUDENTS
Review: KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON BY GRANN
Equity Literary Resources
(in each issue)
Free Teaching/Learning E-Newsletters
(in each issue)
(in each issue)
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MLA WRITING CONTEST: GUIDELINES FOR A+ PAPERS
is sponsoring a student writing contest with guidelines for what it
considers top sample college composition papers. It is looking for five
essays to use as student sample papers. You might encourage a few of your
best students to submit to win prizes and publication.
Even better, you might want to compare the student guidelines to
yours. What could you add?
may submit one paper of 2000-3000 words (not counting the Works Cited
list) by Jan. 18, 2022, for evaluation by MLA’s editorial team and final
selections of five papers by a committee of faculty members. For format
requirements, see the website below. Students must be 18 or older and
enrolled in a high school or accredited two- or four-year college or
university during the 2021-22 academic year.
The criteria for
selection are especially useful if you are looking for a national standard
for good college writing. MLA requires that submissions “should move
beyond the traditional five-paragraph-essay format and include the
A clear and original
argument (thesis statement)
Ample evidence that supports
and further develops the argument
An awareness of the audience
for the paper
An accurate explanation of
what others have said about the topic and a serious consideration of
Judicious use of quotation
Paragraphs with clear topic
Clear transitions between
An introduction that
presents and contextualizes the argument
An ending that fits the
paper’s conclusions into a larger perspective and answers the question,
Why does this matter?
A works-cited list and
in-text citations styled according to the ninth edition of the MLA
“[S]ubmissions [with] the[se] elements are more likely to be accepted:
A wide range of source
formats (books, journal articles, webs,...videos, etc.)
Tables or illustrations with
A mix of run-in and block
“[A]uthors should follow MLA style and format as
best they can and aim for correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.”
MLA Student Paper Contest
The Source's Contest-Edition Webpage
2. Analysis: PMLA–DO WE FACE “THE END OF ENGLISH”?
PMLA, is Jesse Alemán,
Professor of American Literary Studies and Associate Dean for Graduate
Studies, University of New Mexico-Albuquerque, predicting “The End of
English”? In the 136.3 (2021) issue, Alemán
begins by quoting W.E.B. Du Bois’ comment regarding the second Pan African
conference: “It’s better to be Right than White.” Alemán
notes that the University of Chicago English faculty, in “their decision
to focus their graduate admissions in the 2020-21 cycle on Black studies,”
reveals to the nation how “literary studies in English departments is
that the calls in recent decades to retain/return to classic Western
studies in English actually have been a “khaki code for white supremacy.”
He says the Chicago English faculty’s move demonstrates that “English as a
discipline has a long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for
colonization, exploitation, extraction, and anti-Blackness.”
might say in Minnesota and surrounding states, especially in rural areas,
those are fightin’ words. They are problematic especially at a time, now,
when K-12 colleagues are dealing with angry parents’ misunderstanding and
mislabeling of “critical-race theory teaching” in their children’s
Meanwhile, in post-secondary teaching, should we plunge on with, or worry
or feel guilty about, using classic literary studies? First, Alemán
does not want us to blindly continue forward. Second, worry or
guilt is not productive (unless it creates change).
Third, many of our college and university English and Writing
colleagues for years have been introducing literature and other texts that
go far above and beyond the Western Canon. In that regard, we already are
recommendations for us to “come to the position that our long-standing
investments in the literary and cultural values of the standard English
curriculum must go the same way as the Confederate and conquistador
statues [that are] falling....” As he says, and as a majority of us in
post-secondary English and Writing tend to think at times, “English...is
irrelevant if it’s not confronting the questions of race [and]
Finally, however, Alemán
points out that it is not enough for our universities and colleges simply
to make statements about racial solidarity with movements for change. Alemán
tells us that “the complicated legacies of race, slavery, coloniality, and
displacement demand from us that our discipline be more...relevant to the
conditions under which we live...for the students who continue to
believe literature can make a difference” [emphasis added].
says we need to shift away from traditional categories of literary
history, our use of anthologies that deny racial identities and
differences, and our traditional understandings of “literary merit.”
Otherwise, he says, “the discipline has reached its end.”
Every decade, another article in a major publication predicts,
cataclysmically, an “End of English.” It really is happening. But it is
incremental: we are the proverbial frog in the slowly heating water pot.
In recent decades, bit by bit, the study of literature in colleges and
universities has withered: fewer literature requirements, students,
majors, degrees granted, faculty positions, and administrative supports.
Many Minnesota literature departments, perhaps even a majority, have
fought this tendency by gradually making our courses more attractive while
still leaving room for “the classics.”
point hangs in the air, relevant but not always fully answered. He implies
that instead of simply adding new courses and new voices, we need to
change our paradigm, our holistic view. He calls us to reexamine,
personally and departmentally, precisely what good literature is–for all
cultures–and how we can make it more relevant to real student interests.
In that way, he suggests, English literature will not die, but thrive.
"End of English" in PMLA
(First page only. Additional access only by individual or
institutional subscription. Ask your library.)
Teaching: “MR. COOL”–DEALING WITH DISTRACTING STUDENTS
A recent NEA article, “School
Suspensions Do More Harm than Good,” says a new study “finds more severe
suspensions have greater negative effects on learning outcomes,
attendance, and future behavior [but] educators have better solutions....
Most educators believe that every student...has the right to learn in a
supportive environment—one that respects their humanity, upholds their
dignity, and responds fairly to mistakes and missteps. However, zero
tolerance and other exclusionary school discipline policies contradict
these beliefs and instead push kids out of the classroom at record rates.”
Harmful exclusionary discipline is changing at many
pre-K-12 schools in the wake of George Floyd. College and university
faculty may think they rarely need to worry about such rules. However,
what should you do with a student who breaks unspoken or spoken
expectations for being collegiate?
I spoke recently with one faculty member who remembers how
a student we’ll call “Kenji” came to her classroom a week late, looking
like Mr. Cool. He lounged in back wearing a hoodie and wraparound
sunglasses–a student of a different color, culture, and economic class. He
had no books or supplies, and he wouldn’t interact with others in group
work. She was ready to ignore Mr. Cool or let him slowly flunk.
Instead, she decided to find out what was happening in his
life. Working with him after class, she gradually discovered his story.
His sunglasses and hood were
not rebellion or disrespect. Rather, they masked his profound discomfort.
She found a sensitive young man living in his car on the streets, studying
when he could, with no idea how he could navigate college. He began
completing some of his homework, personal essays that revealed a life she
could barely imagine. A couple months later, he disappeared. But she was
glad she had listened: maybe it helped him. Moreover, his story may have
helped her understanding even more.
How many of us profile students incorrectly? In large
classes, of course, it is hard to know each person.
However, the ones who seem
most resistant often are those who most need help. For this reason alone,
asking students obviously different from you about their story can help
you break through to them. It doesn’t always work. But when it does, you
may help them achieve rather than fall into an inevitable trap of failure.
Whether for a lifetime or a few weeks, it humanizes them. They will pass
this on to others also in danger of failure.
Even the smallest of comments to many students can make a
lifetime difference, words like “You’re a great writer,” “You definitely
can get a high grade if you work hard,” or “You really should go to
graduate school.” They’ll be thankful, and they will tell others, “That
teacher cared about me and helped me become what I am today.”
4. Book Review: KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON BY DAVID GRANN
2017, 352 pp.
by Steve Wiley
David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon:
The Osage Murders and the
Birth of the FBI
notorious murders of dozens of the oil-rich Osage Indians in the early
1920s in Oklahoma.
Killers is the
third nonfiction book by Grann, a staff writer for the New Yorker.
words and deeds of actual people drive the very accessible narrative.
Underlying historical and cultural forces draw us into deep, tragic
territory as Osage tribal members become the richest per capita group of
people in the world, and several white community members steal that wealth
by scheming and killing. The book also charts the first big case of
the FBI. The interweaving of these twin historical narratives may appeal
to students normally holding opposing political beliefs.
first part of the history develops mainly around Mollie Kyle, a
full-blooded Osage Tribe member, who happily married Ernest Burkhardt, a
white man. The unsolved deaths of two sisters and her mother over three
years make her fearful. Soon a “Reign of Terror” claims over 24 Osage
lives. They protest white rapacity and hire investigators, to no avail.
the second part, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover focuses his ambition and the
Bureau's resources on solving the murders and ending the Terror. His
steadfast agent in charge, lawman Tom White, assembles a top-notch team.
They eliminate false leads, manufactured facts, and double agents.
Evidence identifies brothers Bryan and Ernest Burkhardt (Mollie’s
husband); their uncle, William Hale, a wealthy rancher connected with
characters ranging from outlaws to government officials; and several more.
Legal wrangling produces only a few convictions by late 1929:
Hale, Ernest Burkhardt, and three accomplices. The rest of the book
carries us into the present. Mollie divorces Ernest, who planned the house
bombing that killed her sister; remarries; and regains her independence.
Hoover grows increasingly authoritarian over the decades. Tom White lives
a long, honorable life as a warden. Meanwhile, the Terror ends and the oil
boom plays out.
rest of Killers carries us into the present. In 1931 Mollie
divorces Ernest, remarries, and regains legal control over her life. She
dies in 1937. Hoover grows increasingly authoritarian over the decades and
subverts Bureau procedure for political ends, dying in 1972; Tom White
lives a long, honorable life as a warden. Meanwhile, the oil boom plays
out and the Terror ends. The lives of the Osage more or less stabilize.
causes of the murders are complex. Osage traditions valued communal
reciprocity over private property and consensus over hierarchical command;
that worked well until Osage territory was overrun by whites, whose greed
and racism drove widespread lawlessness. Beginning in 1886, “Allotment”
put a veneer of legality on shrinking remaining Indian territories. It
assigned restricted acreage on already marginal treaty land, freeing
thousands of square miles for sale to whites. Osage allotment (1906) set
aside subsurface mineral rights as unimportant, but headright law
guaranteed them royalties from a sudden, spectacular oil boom. They got
Allotment also made it easy to declare Indians incompetent: hence the
appointment of white guardians, all local. Opportunities for crime were
Osage today live with a recent $380 million oil settlement; a few thousand
dollars each, yearly, for headrights; and casino proceeds. But their daily
lives are burdened by intergenerational trauma, central to the lore of
many much individual families. In Killers’ emotional climax, Grann
interviews Margie Burkhardt–Mollie and Ernest’s granddaughter. She tells
Grann how her own father "had to live knowing his father [Ernest] had
tried to kill him." This is her individual terror of inherited trauma, but
ours, too. How, Killers implies, should we deal with the systemic
brutalities of which we are all heirs?
documented murder total reaches a terrifying 60, but there were “hundreds
and hundreds” of cases, according to an agent who left Osage County before
Tom White arrived. Hale's was only one of several death squads.
energetic writing, his use of very real people, and many black and white
photos make reading Killers a gripping experience. Voted a Best
Book by many newspapers and enthusiastically praised, Killers
challenges us all to confront, as did the FBI, how white greed and racism
have distorted America's past and present. As William Faulkner says, “The
past is never dead. It's not even past.”
New York Times Review
Osage Nation Citizens' Reactions to Martin Scorsese Movie
Equity Literary Resources
is a new feature as of 2021, repeated in each issue. What diversity books
might you or your students read? Suggestions are welcome. Email Richard
at Jewell dot net.
Graphic Novels and Diversity
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