Labor: Local to Global

Teacher:Julian Spiro
Extra Help:Thursdays and by appointment

Labor:  Local to Global

Course Syllabus

Course Overview:

In this reading and writing intensive course, we will examine how labor is represented in literature and work towards creating our own literature of labor.  Our textual focus will be on American authors beginning at the end of the Civil War, though we will also read texts that talk about experiences of labor in other countries.  Our discussions of these texts will guide you towards the development of your own approach to depicting the experience of labor, as you gain primary research skills, practice conducting interviews, and write in a variety of genres.

Essential Questions

  • What is labor, and what counts as labor?  

  • How have attitudes about labor changed over time?

  • What do we expect work to give us?  

  • How is labor characterized in literature (including novels, films, magazines, etc) and why does that matter?

Major Texts may include:

  1. Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller

  2. Behind the Beautiful Forevers -- Katherine Boo

  3. No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and  R. Gregory Christie

  4. Selections from Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, and from Working, by Studs Terkel

  5. Short stories from Oblivion, by David Foster Wallace

Major Assessments may include:

  1. Journal responses

  2. Simulation game report

  3. Open-ended research and writing project

  4. Final exam

Learning goals:  

  • Strengthen critical reading skills in multiple genres

  • Make self to text, text to text, and text to world connections

  • Gain skills in various modes of formal and informal writing, including literary journalism

  • Strengthen primary research skills

Course Expectations:

  • You are an important member of the class, and your writing, questions, and ideas deserve to be heard. Take yourself and the other thinkers in our class seriously.  Demand respect and act courteously to others.

  • Put your best effort into all assignments.

  • Stay focused and on-task.

  • Attendance and timeliness are important. Be in class on time. I will count every third tardy as an absence.

  • Save all of your work (handwritten lists, drafts, and final pieces).

  • Please follow all school rules. Penalties will be assessed based on what is outlined in your student handbook.


You will be scored on:

30% Analysis (Depth and complexity of observation, explanation, and commentary)

25% Composition (Demonstration of form, style, and conventions in writing)

25% Work Habits (Meeting deadlines, homework, journals, class work, etc.)

20% Oral Expression (Class discussion, work critiques, presentations)

Participation and Discussion:

An important way to learn, understand yourself, and get to know your classmates is by discussing and sharing your thoughts and writing. We will all work together to create a safe and supportive space in which ideas, opinions, questions, and comments can be shared and regarded with respect.  Creating a safe space is especially important in this class, since we will be talking about sensitive and often controversial subjects.  You will receive grades for your comments and participation in class writing critiques.

Honors Credit:

Students taking the course for honors credit will complete an additional outside assignment, which will include expectations for deep independent work with a research element.  Honors students will also fulfill additional requirements on major assignments.  Expect the additional requirements to be harder work, not just extra work.

Late Work Policy/Extra Credit Policy

In order for an assignment to receive full credit, it must be turned in on time.   I will accept late work up to one week after the deadline.   Regular, graded homework assignments will lose 50% credit per day late. Large projects and papers lose 10% credit on work habits per day late. Large assignments will continue to be eligible for full credit in all other strands.

Extension Policy

I will grant short-term extensions on major assignments, no questions asked, when circumstances allow -- as long as you ask before the end of the school day two days before the assignment is due (so, ask by Wednesday at 3 p.m. if the assignment is due on Friday).

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism includes copying and pasting without citing, paraphrasing without citing, and using work that you have already submitted for another class. When in doubt, CITE! If it’s in the gray area, it IS plagiarism. For more information on the Academic Honesty policy, please refer to the student handbook. Please know that I will take cases of plagiarism to Dr. Arnold with the first offense.