Cultures of American Childhood

Paper Topic:

On your midterm, I commented that the interdisciplinary nature of this course was reflected in the diversity of texts we had analyzed so far: not just novels and stories but “historical documents, journalistic writing about current events, a documentary film, and even a music video.” By the end of the quarter, this list will have expanded to include photography as well as research-based academic writing. Using what you have learned in this course about how to put fictional and non-fictional sources into conversation, choose one of the fictional children’s or YA texts we have examined in this course (a novel, a short story, or the film Smoke Signals) and write a formal academic essay in which you analyze that text jointly with one of these other textual or audio-visual sources, arguing that both of them help to communicate a particular idea or ideas about the nature of American childhood.

Although one key focus of your argument should be an idea that you can arrive at by synthesizing the two sources, you may also want to note their differences along the way. For instance, if you were to write about Esperanza Rising and Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary, you might argue that since one is set in an earlier period than the other, the two texts together illustrate the long history of prejudice against Chicana/o children and adolescents in Southern California and the Central Valley, including in the workplace as well as in schools. On the other hand, in some cases you might note a starker difference. If you were writing about Smoke Signals and the Native Youth Report, you might argue that while both texts highlight historical and contemporary challenges facing Native children, Smoke Signals also underscores how Native children have shown resiliency by developing culturally hybrid traditions and passions.

A word of caution: as you will see below, this assignment requires you to “closely read and analyze” texts. If you choose the film Smoke Signals as one of your texts, rather than a novel or short story, you will need to be sure to quote extensively from the film throughout your argument to provide evidence for a rigorous close-reading. This will likely require you to re-watch the film as you are writing your paper or to perhaps look at the screenplay for the film so that you can quote from it.

Assignment Goals and Grading:

In writing this essay, you will demonstrate your mastery of concepts we have discussed in this course as well as your ability to closely read and analyze texts (both literary and non-literary).

Your grade for this essay will be based on how well you achieve these goals.

Length and Formatting:

Your paper should be between 3 and 5 full pages, double-spaced. Please use MLA citations, standard 1” margins, and a standard font such as Times New Roman or Garamond.

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