That Black Mirror Composition Syllabus. Finally.

This composition syllabus had a rather long gestational period. It was supposed to make an appearance in the fall of 2016.

Instead, Lemonade happened.

Which worked out fine. I had a great time teaching those composition sections around Beyoncé’s visual album, intersectional feminism, and pop culture more generally.

But because I get bored/distracted easily when teaching the same material repeatedly, I felt it was time to revisit my Black Mirror ideas, tweak as necessary, and roll out this sucker. Fortunately, the experience running those Lemonade sections – especially using student writing as course reading/response materials – helped me hone this iteration a bit more.

In terms of materials, I’m clustering readings around two different episodes of Black Mirror and the film Minority Report; essentially, I’m modeling what I want students to accomplish later in the class – find an article to “pair” with another Black Mirror episode of their choosing, and justify their research/”pairing.” The specifics:

  • For Paper 1, students will be summarizing and inserting themselves into a conversation about our relationship with technology and the performance of identity via social media. Sherry Turkle and some of her respondents will be our main focus, and we will also be doing a modified version of Mark Marino’s “Know Thy Selfie” assignment in class. We’ll then read Bruce Feiler’s NY Times article “For the Love of Being Liked,” before screening “Nosedive” together. As outlined in the paper prompt, students will be asked: “does technology and social media usage harm our ability to empathize with others? Do they potentially weaken our relationships – as argued by Sherry Turkle? Do they have a direct and perhaps harmful impact on how we construct and reflect on our own identity or on the the identity of others?”
  • Paper 2 is an in class midterm (and thus, I won’t be sharing the prompt here. Give me a shout if you’d like to see it. Unless you are a student. Then tough noogies.). Students will be reflecting on questions surrounding free will, crime, and punishment. To begin our exploration, we’ll watch Minority Report (2002) and read Michael Huemer’s “Free Will and Determinism in the World of Minority Report.” We’ll then grapple with Cohen and Greene’s “For the Law, Neuroscience Changes Nothing and Everything” before seeing how Black Mirror deals with the themes of crime and punishment in “White Bear.”
  • Paper 3 asks students to choose any other episode of Black Mirror that they fancy, and assign a reading to go along with the episode (for example: a piece on memory blunting  for soldiers would go well with “Men Against Fire,” but there are clearly a lot of different directions you could go with that – or almost any other – Black Mirror episode). Their paper will, in essence, present a justification for this “pairing,” reflecting on their own engagement with the topic/theme they focused on and the episode itself. Prompt here.
  • Paper 4 builds on Paper 3 (I mean, the idea is that they all build on each other, with scaffolding and backwards planning and what-not, but here Paper 4 is a direct outgrowth of Paper 3). Students will select a “pairing,” as suggested by one of their colleagues: reading the assigned article, watching the chosen episode, and reading their classmate’s justification of this pairing. They will then respond in turn, writing a paper (initial prompt here, I’m still fiddling with it) in which they consider the proposed pairing and justification, and how the suggested reading did (or did not) enhance or challenge their viewing and understanding of the episode.
  • Paper 5 is the final exam. It ain’t written yet. But – with 99% certainty – it will be my tried and true letter to future students reflection (just give me a holler if you want that, too).

The syllabus is below (made with Piktochart – you can see it here, too). Comments and critiques here, via social media, or email are always welcome. Rants of dissent and vehement disapproval are only allowed if you buy the first round.


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