Sunday, January 22, 2012


Syllabus Letter

22 January 2012

Dear Students:

I am still on South Africa time waking at two and four in the morning. The time difference is about 10 hours between here and there. It was great when I needed a bit more time to complete something, I could go to bed and wake up in the same day—different time zone. I got up today at 4 a.m. went to sleep yesterday about six or seven in the evening. Today is my granddaughter’s birthday. She is nine. Her mother is a graduate of COA: psychology, with a BS in psychology and women’s studies from Cal State East Bay (2011).

This morning I completed a wonderful book, might I say, a mighty work (smile), entitled, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War, A Memoir, by Leyman Gbowee with Carol Mithers.

When I watched the film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, directed by Gini Reticker, produced by Abigail E. Disney, I marveled over the courage of the Liberian women to defeat the Charles Taylor war machine with prayer and nonviolent resistance. The women assembled along the road where the president’s caravan passed twice daily. Dressed in plain white garments, these women, from the city, from the countryside, rural women, educated and uneducated women, Christian and Muslim women, women who called on the ancient indigenous spirits and goddesses, sat or stood together in the oppressive heat and in the summer storms getting wet and growing dark and weak as they became the key voice for peace in a country that was violently spinning out of control. The film is on-line at: There are also links to other films in the series: Women, War and Peace, as well as to interviews with Ms. Gbowee.

Unlike her memoir, the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, is a heroines’ story, the story of a nation which is confronted by its most vulnerable population, its women. It is a story, Liberia’s quest for peace is a story, a story which ends as it begins. The film could be a miniseries; the culminating event is not the end, rather the beginning, which we’d never know unless we read 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Gbowee’s tale of triumph and personal sacrifice. I am happy Abigail Disney told me about the memoir when we last spoke in a radio interview—what a wonderful journey is has been this weekend. I am just disappointed I wasn’t able to meet Ms. Gbowee when she was here on tour last year.

I bought the book at the college book store Thursday where I have it listed as required. I assigned it for my English 1A class, along with Half the Sky, the Pulitzer Prize winning book from the married team, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Students either hate the book or love it. I never know what to expect from Spring semester to Spring semester over the past three years. One criticism is the formulaic nature of the book and the fact that men are not key characters and when they are, they are often the villains.

I assigned this book after seeing the authors and a woman profiled in Half the Sky on Oprah. You can imagine my great surprise when a student told me its authors were hosting a global event for International Women’s Day in theatres throughout the country. We attended of course. Locally our event was in Emeryville. Students bought tickets and I got some free ones from a sponsoring organization in San Francisco and we went. Students said they found the film and discussion inspiring.

We will start with Gbowee and then shift into the Kristof WuDunn land where all women are suffering— Yes, it would be depressing without evidence of triumph. Gbowee’s success is not singular, that is why her story is so remarkable. However, Half the Sky is unable to go into such depth, this is why we are reading her story first.

Students in English 1A will look for a woman entrepreneur in Northern California to profile in an essay. Students will also chose a book about the woman entrepreneur or a book by a woman to write an essay exploring the memoir, autobiography or novel’s themes and topics as relates to women’s empowerment or peace. These are the major essays for English 1A. We will write a series of short essays and post on the blog, these cyber-assignments will often start in class. All cyber-assignment are interactive and students have to respond to minimally 1-3 students posts for credit for the assignment. The first cyber assignment is a response to this letter, the second is a response to the syllabus. The second response includes a private response to me. My email addresses are:,,,

I love memoirs and autobiographies that cover political, social and historic movements, like this one does. The Warmth of Other Suns does a similar job, except Isabel Wilkerson didn’t live it, as Gbowee does. A short book, just under 250 pages, Gbowee’s work addressed in the award winning film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, doesn’t start until the book is nearly two thirds finished. I thought of all the murder mysteries I love where the crime is solved in the last ten pages; was this one of those reads?

Each Spring in honor of Women’s History Month in March, I have used women’s issues as the theme for the semester. So here we are again. In English 5 we are looking more are the criminalization of a population in California and in America, poor people of color, more specifically black people. California incarcerates more youth as adults than any other state and more women. I am concerned about this. I am a member of an organization called, California Coalition for Women Prisoners. We are an advocacy organization. I serve on its board.

Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, looks at the criminalization of a population and how this tale is not new when one looks at the historic Jim Crow polices of America’s south, instituted at the end of enslavement of an entire race for four centuries. Cornell West’s forward to the paperback edition is quite provocative as he raises questions and issues you might not be familiar with. As English 5 meets for 1 hour and 15 minutes. We will have to do a lot of preparation at home and come to class ready to talk and discuss what we have read, the theories we have explored in our text book or in other readings I will supply on other argument forms: Toulmin and Aristotelian. Writing Logically, Thinking Critically only uses the Rogerian argumentative form.

We will write four arguments using these forms. The last argument, which takes its theme from Alexander, will be an opportunity for a student to craft an argument using one of the three explored. There might be an opportunity for the “super students” to craft an argument taking on a topic they disagree with arguing its merits. Since this is an election year, it will be fun analyzing campaign speeches, looking for examples of logical fallacies or flawed logic in ads, op eds and other media.

All arguments are both written and oral. Students will present their written arguments for critique. Each of three arguments will take their topic from one of the texts. We will start with Yummy, then move to Mosely, and end with Alexander. Alexander is a hard read, so if you are a slow reader, start it early.

We are leaving Alexander for last, as I’d like to get through much of Writing Logically, along with its exercises, before we start the book. I love Walter Mosely’s work. He is one of my favorite writers since the Easy Rawlins’ series of detective novels, to his science fiction work, and lately his protagonist Socrates Fortlow novels, Fortlow who is just as thoughtful as Ezekiel "Easy" Porterhouse Rawlins, perhaps more.

One of my students in English 1A Fall 2010, shared the title with me and I checked it out from the Oakland Public Library. I read it in a day and a half and immediately decided to use it this Spring Semester. The argument is classic. How many of you ever thought the destination “hell” as negotiable (smile)? Well, Mosely’s character disagrees with his sentence and gets sent back to earth to work it out with his angel. There he meets the devil or Lucifer himself. It is a great story that makes the reader rethink her notion of right and wrong, good and evil.

When I was in Los Angeles last year in November to say good bye to a good friend who was dying, I went to the Holocaust Museum that Sunday, where the author of Yummy was receiving a book award. I hadn’t known the story of the child in Chicago. After reading Yummy, I decided to make it one of our texts this semester as it is an easy read and a story—those of us who live in urban communities can undoubtedly, unfortunately, relate to.

I also like films and in the classes longer than 50 minutes, we watch a few (smile). For English 1A, we will definitely watch, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, even if it takes two classes or I might assign it as homework (we’ll see).

Sandra Cisneros’s House on Mango Street, first, Yummy, second, and last, Always Running. Students will also read a book, a memoir of their own choosing. I suggest the sequel to Always Running, It Calls You Back.

There will be a Social Entrepreneur Essay for English 201 and English 1A students.

In English 201, we will take our freewrites in response to House on Mango Street and make a book. We’ll have a book release party with refreshments (smile). There will be five major essays, three tied to assigned textbooks, one tied to a memoir you choose, the last on the social entrepreneur.

Four of the five essays involve presentations: House on Mango Street, Always Running, SE Essay, Book Report Essay. The response to Yummy can be a graphic essay for the artistically inclined (smile). In English 201 we might read the play, Elephant Man. I see this play and its character as a metaphor for what happened to the protagonist in Yummy and what happened to Luis Rodríguez in Always Running.

I chose Always Running after many years of not teaching it, because of the recent by the author, whom I had the opportunity to interview when he was in town last November on a book tour. I loved teaching his Always Running, a classic tale similar to Down These Mean Streets by the late poet and author, Piri Thomas, Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land, Brothers and Keepers by John Edgar Wideman, and more recently, The Pact by Drs. Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt with Lisa Frazier Page, and The Color of Water by James McBride. These coming of age tales about young men, are stories where growing up is not a given for the men who tell these stories, so how they survive proves instructive then and now.

In English 1A we will read the Greek play, Lysistrata. I also have a collection of poetry with the theme, war, which we will look at in English 1A in March as well.

I hope we can attend at least one play or author event as a community of writers. I will let students know what is opening and where. You can let me know of events you are attending as well. Films are also great, especially when the director is present or there is a discussion before or afterward.

Some students are not receiving this communiqués from me, which means, said student has no email address on file with admissions and records. Correct this omission immediately. Add an email address to your application. Make sure the phone numbers listed are the ones you are able to be reached at.

I have be using the book Stewart Pidd Hates English for too many years to recall when I started exactly, but suffice it to say over the years, “The Pidd Experience,” which many students hate as well as Pidd, has become a trademark text I have become well-known for on this campus and perhaps in the District (smile). It is a book that through a series of prescriptive exercises and essays covers many of the more salient errors writing students make which give their college teachers the most grief. The errors reviewed are both grammatical and mechanical, with an overview of summary and paraphrasing most third semester students have forgotten, not to mention a mind expanding section on plagiarism, which some scholars are not serious enough about, a slight which often comes back to haunt many a student as he or she crams at the end of the semester.

Deceptively simple, SPHE grows steadily more complex until the student who has been simply gliding along runs into major difficulty. This is around the third or fourth essays, Pronoun Case or BeVerbs. The fictional character, Stewart Pidd, supplies all the course work and students act as his teachers, grading his essays and offering comments on how he can improve by naming the errors and giving an example(s) of how he can correct the essays. These corrective essays are written as templates, which means there is little space for creativity, rather, the correct essay looks like everyone else’s, with perhaps originality in the title or often in the concluding paragraph. Many students cannot believe how simple the task is, until this simplicity is shattered by failing grades.

The essays are nonsense essays, which enable students to focus on the writing, rather than the content. This to fosters in students a false sense of competence failing grades quickly shatter. It isn’t the difficulty that gets students; it is the attention to detail that gets them over and over again.

Last semester, for the first time, I had students write an essay called, “The Stewart Pidd Experience.” I also had students write an essay where they evaluated their two grammar exams in an essay. This was a part of the class portfolio which is our final assignment. There is no sitting final in this class.

I have decided to not require Pidd for Spring Semester, except as a recommendation for all students who have never used the book before. The only class where this is not true is English 201 where I am making SPHE required. For everyone else, if your essays include errors covered in Pidd, students will have to write a correction essay outlining their errors, how to correct them and a revised essay.

The errors covered in SPHE are: confused words, sentence punctuation, pronoun agreement, pronoun case, be-verbs, possessives, verb tense, parallel structure, MLA, plagiarism, paraphrasing, summarizing, ellipsis use, signal phrases, works cited pages.

I plan to give students the quizzes and the exams, just so you can know if you need to get the book and run the exercises. Beginning Week 2, I will host a six week workshop on MW mornings (10:30-11:30) for students interested in “The Pidd Experience.” I could possibly host a meeting also on M or W afternoons, after 3 p.m., let’s say, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., if more than 5 students are interested. Students do not have to be in English 201 to attend. One has to commit to the entire six weeks though. The workshop is open to all Sabir students. Students in my English 1B class last semester who did not buy a grammar style book and made many errors up to the portfolio in MLA from works cited pages to ellipsis marks, received Bs instead of As in the course. For English 1A, it was crucial that students cited correctly. This is a key goal of Freshman composition. After English 1A, students are expected to know how to cite their sources and understand the importance of scholarly research when proving a point. Students are also expected to know the difference between free and literal paraphrasing, summarizing and plagiarism. It is that serious that students who are scholars know this information, so if you don’t look at the book—SPHE, and think about this short refresher workshop.

I am teaching four classes: English 1B, 21792, 8-8:50 AM, MTWTh in C211; English 1A, 21757, 9-9:50 AM, MTWTh, A-202; English 5, 21763 & English 211, 21777, 11-12:15 AM, TTh, A-202; English 201A 21768 & English 201B 21774, MW, A 202, 1-2:50 PM. (The two classes ENG 201A & ENG 201B, as well as ENG 5 and ENG 211, run concurrently.)

As usual, I am looking to hold one class a week in a lab with computers so students can learn to navigate the blog and how I want essay portfolios sent to me.

If you do not have technology at home, use the computers here on campus in the LRC. There is the Open Lab and the Writing Center for your use. All you need is a Student ID, which is free. Make sure you get on early on. Students also need to sign up for a special LRC course, which is also free. Do this early in the semester as well.

For first year students, I suggest you fit College Success at COA into your schedules: Counseling 21739, MW 12-1:15, 3 Units, in C-113, with Cobb or Counseling 21738, MW 9:30-10:45, in CV-205 (portables) with Nakmo. Similar classes are offered at Laney and Merritt colleges (Peralta Colleges 2012 Schedule of Classes 96). There is a Grammar class at Laney: 20428 6-8:50 PM, Eng. 206A, English Grammar, 3 units (Peralta Colleges 2012 Spring Schedule of Classes 107).

In all except the English 5 or Critical Thinking class, I am using a new book, I hope students like or at least find useful, They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. Oh, no, students might cry, another book that uses templates?! What is wrong with Sabir, doesn’t she trust original thought (smile). You won’t believe this, but this book has been sitting on my desk for at least five years, maybe more and it wasn’t until a former student of mine, now professor, Maria Acuna, shared it with me last semester, did I decide to try it.

I have been reading it this weekend as well and I like the premise the authors use to explain why they wrote it. Granted, templates can get tiresome, but for those who are familiar with Stewart Pidd Hates English, these templates are nothing like the ones Pollitt and Baker use. Rest assured there (smile). Instead, this book helps students enter the discourse or conversation, often one which has been raging or simmering or bubbling over for a short or long while, a conversation you have never entered, however, one which affects your life in profound ways. Why haven’t you joined in? Often, the reason certain communities are not called to the table or invited to participate is intentional. The reason is, to do so doesn’t serve the interests of the body politic at the table.

Whether one is invited or not, whether one has a chair or not, whether one has the proper suit or proper language with which to engage those at the table using one’s life as a ping pong, the conversation is open in a democracy and it is yours to join even in an assignment for a class such as ours. I have students who have used their writing here to launch careers in politics. I have had students publish writing completed here in class in newspapers and respected journals. We are working in a laboratory where results can actually change lives beginning with our own. What you learn here is not “academic” if academic means useless. Each of you is a change agent; that is why you took time out of your life to show up.

Showing up is important. We all showed up for different reasons, some not as lofty as others, but you are here and because you are here, I expect great work from you. That is my goal and that is why and I am here and when you start hating me, remember, the promise I made to you here: meritocracy will never get a reward in this class. There is no grading on the curve. Everyone is held to a high standard and while I set the bar, well the State of California sets the bar and some of you will not reach it this time— keep trying and you will eventually.

The class might appear disorganized and I smile a lot and seem easy, this is an illusion. I am not easy. I demand a lot from each of you, but this is college—and you expect huge demands right? Don’t worry, I think you will get your money’s worth and then some. I do not assign writing assignments because I have nothing better to do. I can think or many tasks I love more than reading first drafts of students’ papers—you think they are final drafts, but they are not. I am a professional writer and I know what I am doing, so trust me when I tell you something is wrong. It is not personal, rather it is the writing not you I am critiquing. Some students enter the class with more skill sets than others. Some expect success in high school to tide them over here, and have rude awakenings. My suggestion is to come to class awake and sleep at home the night before.

I hope students surprise me and actually know a bit about the writing process and can read with comprehension and most importantly, are not lazy. You can enroll in this class not knowing everything, but if you do not exert yourself and fill in those spaces where perhaps time or preparation left you under-ready then, I expect you to get the extra help needed, whether that is attending my “Pidd Experience” workshop or a getting a tutor or both.

Be honest with yourself and do what you need to do to be successful here. Do not waste your time or your classmates. I will not let you waste mine or theirs or use my brain as your own. I do not suffer fools at all. Some students say I am rude, perhaps I am; however, when students are not prepared and want to waste the time of those who are, I cut them off. I am not interested in anything an unprepared student has to say. If you ever come to class unprepared, keep silent. Do not open your mouth except to tell us you are not prepared and are just observing that day.

I have to pay out of pocket for an assistant to help me with record keeping. I haven’t had a student aide in years to help students with their essays, so it’s on me and you. If you need help I can help you to a point—there is no magic. I am a great writer because I write and I kept writing when I got failing grades, had to take remedial writing classes at UC Berkeley, and got failing grades on first drafts at Holy Names.

Believe it or not, I didn’t know what a thesis sentence was until graduate school Teaching Writing course. I do not have hours to spend with one student a week, but you can get assistance, so ask when there are questions. I think faster than I write sometimes and I am an awful speller. No one is perfect. Learn what your strengths are. I have an almost photographic memory. Writing things down is a way for me to record them in my mind almost verbatim. I don’t hold hands and after last semester, a deadline is a deadline even if only one student makes it, so keep the due dates in your calendar, just in case I forget to remind you when something is due.

The blog is a place where reminders tend to go, but if you have limited access to the web, take good notes from the white board and get a few students phones numbers just in case. I suggest students hold study sessions to discuss readings and assignments. The library (first floor in the LRC or Learning Resource Center) has classrooms students can use for discussions.

Each class has varying requirements for the writing, which is about 6-8,000 words. I tend to assign more writing. In English 1A, students will have several short research essays, rather than one long essay. Each essay in English 1A will be about 3-4 pages, 250 words a page. In English 5 3-4 pages per essay. This is minimally. Essays can be a bit longer. In English 201 essays will be between 2-5 pages depending on the level. English 1B, 3-4 pages. This excludes the works cited page.

I am giving you all this in advance so you can drop the course and find a better fit.

Recap on textbooks. Find your class:

1. English 5: Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow; Walter Mosley's The Tempest Tales; Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri, and Writing Logically, Thinking Critically 6th Edition. Recommended: Diana Hacker’s Rules for Writers, American Heritage Dictionary.

2.English 1B:

Gardner, Janet E. Writing about Literature: A Portable Guide. Second Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. Print.

Grover, Linda Legarde. The Dance Boots. Athens, Georgia and London: The University of Georgia Press, 2010. Print.

Kwok, Jean. Girl in Translation. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010. Print.

Satrapi, Marjane. The Complete Persepolis. Pantheon Books, 2007. Print. ISBN 0375714839

Bannerjee, Neelanjana and Summi Kaipa, Pireeni Sundaralingam. Ed. Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian Poetry. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2010. Print.

Recommended: Diana Hacker’s Rules for Writers, 4-7th editions. American Heritage Dictionary.

3. English 1A: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leymah Gbowee, Diana Hacker Rules for Writers, American Heritage Dictionary. They Say, I Say, Second Edition, by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birenstein.

Recommended for students who have not taken my classes before: Stewart Pidd Hates English.

4. English 201A: Stewart Pidd Hates English*, Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Always Running: Gang Days in LA by Luis Rodriguez. American Heritage Dictionary.

English 201B: for Pidd Alumni: Diana Hacker’s Rules for Writers and They Say, I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birenstein. If a student has not had me for English 201A then Pidd is recommended.


Wanda Sabir

English Professor, College of Alameda

Kathleen Adams
Professor Sabir
English 1 A
25 January 2012

My Syllabus Response
The syllabus is very instructive. It has everything I need to know about dropping classes and how to get a refund for the classes that I have dropped. It also keeps me mindful of the holidays, and on days classes will not be in session. The final exam dates are just below the scheduled holidays, in case I do not have a Peralta calendar. All of the material presented in the pre writing of the syllabus is vital, and are questions the students ask most, although it is printed on the syllabus.

When I think about English 1A, there is a type of uneasiness that exudes to the point of me being unsure of myself. With a preparedness to overcome the writing process and begin to write with persuasion, I am sure this will be most gratifying. The weeks onward will be a true test to the writing that I have done in the past yet, I am willing to interchange it all for the elation of becoming even better. Writing can be fun and sometimes it can be demanding and lacerating, but this is what makes me a great writer, taking chances without consent is impressive and a good thing.

This semester English 1A promises delightful material and commendable readings such as: Diana Hacker’s Rules for Writers, Frontline, Half the Sky, Lysistrata, Mighty, The New Heroes, , They Say I say, and last, one of the many films we will see in class called To Educate a Girl. Way in on the cost of war and it effects, celebrate Earth Day and Women’s Day, and even celebrate “Love” in February. To top it off, we will be doing a research paper on social mogul.

I am looking forward to the academic blog; it will show how my writing is pending along. Therefore, in order to get the highest grade of A, I must follow the syllabus rules which are: coming to class on time with all of my material that is needed. The Library is my friend and I know the class will visit quite often to get information for ventures.

This concludes my response to the syllabus for English 1A and I am ready for my journey of writing well. Who will join me?
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