Last fall, I structured my basic composition course around the superhero movie. We wrote four papers about superheroes: two basic rhetorical analysis papers, one research paper about how a specific social issue is portrayed in superhero films, and a persuasive paper in which my students created a superhero that they felt filled a void in the canon.

It was a major hit. For the most part, my students enjoyed coming to class. Our conversations were fun and lighthearted, but we got to read some pretty difficult articles that challenged their reading skills. I still got a lot of boring, sludgy papers, but that’s to be expected from a college composition course–especially one for writers who are still struggling to get a grasp of the basic structure of an essay and haven’t even started to think about what makes a paper interesting. This time, though, there were far more gems among the papers I received. I had students who wrote intriguing essays about Batman‘s portrayal of mental illness, the lack of women in the superhero world, and the problem of whitewashing.

Best of all, I felt that students who generally dislike writing and English classes were able to feel invested in their work. A colleague is doing research now about whether or not composition students who have an interest in the subject matter do better in their classes, and I will be very interested to see what she finds. In the meantime, I plan on continuing forward with themed composition classrooms because they are fun to teach, the students seem to get involved, and I did find that more of my students wrote better essays than in previous semesters.

With book orders due in April, it’s time to start thinking about Fall 2013. I’ll be teaching three sections of the basic comp course again, which means I’ll have those students in class four days a week. What do I want to choose as a theme? Do I want to repeat the superhero course? It’s an option. I chose superheroes because they are something I have a casual interest in, and they are accessible to any reader no matter his or her background in the genre.

For now, I’m kicking around the idea of teaching from texts about the Apocalypse.

I need to weigh some pros and cons.

First, CONS:

  • I am not an expert in this genre.
  • Much of what’s out there is quite gory in description or visuals, and I don’t want to make the course unbearable for students with more sensitive stomachs and hearts.
  • The literature that is out there is likely far above the reading level of most of my students, who tend to be struggling writers.
  • I’d have to start from scratch and create a brand-new syllabus based on this material. (Whatever. I do that every semester anyway, as I love punishing myself with extra work.)
  • It’s possible that I will have a student or two who are troubled by the material on account of their faith, and I’ll have to coax them through the idea that fiction doesn’t have to reflect reality to be acceptable.

And PROS:

  • I have always been intrigued by end-of-the-world, last-person-alive, post-Apocalyptic stories. Whether they are movies, books, tv shows, poems, short stories–I like it all.
  • There is a ton of it out there. Night of the Living Dead, Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, Seeking a Friend for the End of the WorldThe Walking Dead comics, poetry, etc. That’s just what I think of without any effort–imagine if I actually start seeking this stuff out.
  • There is this great new anthology that I bought as an e-book last week and am receiving an examination copy of soon! It’s called Apocalypse Now and anthologizes both poetry and prose on the topic, from really well known authors to total unknowns.
  • Apocalyptic literature should lend itself to good paper topics, especially if we address the greater significance of our societal obsession with the end of the world.
  • Apocalyptic lit should challenge their reading skills.
  • The Walking Dead is incredibly popular on campus. They even showed an episode in the chapel last Halloween. I don’t feel comfortable showing an episode in class on account of the gore factor, but I would probably be okay with having them read one of the comics.
  • I already have a guest speaker in mind who could address Apocalyptic literature that comes from the Christian tradition.

The pros seem to outweigh the cons, but does that mean that the Apocalypse is the BEST subject for my students next fall? Or should I keep searching?

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