Exploring the Star System

Independent Study: Part One


“Logic! Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?”

~ Professor Digory Kirk.


“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It’s continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

~ Captain Jean-Luc Picard


Course description:

I predict that this self-inflicted course will stretch my brain from the ludicrous amount of thinking, writing, and reading I stupidly decided to give myself.

I will discover and explore the different worldviews and underlying messages of three authors: C. S. Lewis, Isaac Asimov, and Lois McMaster Bujold. Yes, these are three of my favorite authors, but they have different points of view that are hidden in their works and I want to learn how to find them and how they use their stories to state those points of view.

Knowing where an author’s coming from is, I think, important to reading literature. If you don’t know the author’s point of view, how can you analyze his or her work?

Also, what I find fascinating about critical thinking and stories is that authors hide their messages and worldviews behind characters, plot twists, issues dealt with, and other elements of a story.  For example, seeing what an author considered to be good or evil by the consequences of a character’s actions or what plot twists the author uses. Not only do these elements keep me reading, but the author argues for a particular side of an issue.

I’m using SciFi novels instead of “real” literature because while I do enjoy Chesterton, Dickens, and Jane Austen, I wanted to experiment with something light and entertaining, but also deals with issues like cloning, futuristic societies, or “the prime directive”. Plus, SciFi stuff has been zinging through my head all summer. Any ideas why?


Mission Objectives:

By the end of this self-made, self-taught course, I hope to be able to….

  1. Identify an author’s worldview
  2. Identify an author’s underlying message
  3. Identify ways an author conveys both is or her worldview and underlying message (characters, issues addressed and how addressed, symbolism, plot, etc)
  4. Identify what arguments an author makes for his or her worldview

Reading List:

Main Texts:

Critical thinking booklets from the Foundation of Critical Thinking

  • The Thinker’s Guide For Students on How to Study and Learn a Discipline: Using Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools By Richard Paul and Linda Elder
  • The Art of Socratic Questioning by Richard Paul and Linda Elder
  • How to Read a Paragraph: The Art of Close Reading by Richard Paul and Linda Elder 
  • The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools by Richard Paul and Linda Elder
  • The Miniature Guide to Practical Ways for Promoting Active and Cooperative Learning by Wesley Hilar and Richard Paul

These are the nuts and bolts of the course. I’ll explore the elements of thought, the intellectual standards, and reasoning skills by reading these booklets carefully and making lots of notes. I’ll practice what I learn on movies and TV shows, and then summarize what I find. Then, I’ll apply all that to the SciFi books. Throughout this, I’ll “report” on my findings through essays and journaling.

Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis

C.S Lewis’s Space trilogy, while more fantasy-like than the other two SciFi books, is written just before the space program blasted the idea of life on Mars out the airlock. His Mars is peopled by myth-inspired aliens which philologist Dr. Ransom must learn to interact with, while being on the run from his human kidnappers, Dr. Devine and Dr. Weston.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Asimov takes a more realistic and scientific view of space. The Foundation Series focuses less on exploration and more on building (or re-building) a civilization on the backwater world of Terminus. Covering a span of 100 years, the world of Terminus and its Foundation becomes one of the most powerful influences in the galaxy through a predicted future created or controlled by the legendary mathematician, Harry Seldon.

The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series is more of a space opera. It focuses on the wac.colostate.edu/books/ of “already existing” civilizations, exploring various age-old and modern issues through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Miles Vorkosigan as he struggles to become an adult despite the prejudices of his planet and the hostility of mercenaries.

Additional Readings:

The Informed Writer by Charles Bazerman

This book, which I read for my book review, was very enlightening as to how to seriously study writing. I plan on re-reading it more carefully and employing what I learn to my various writing assignments.

Various essays from Writing Spaces

  • Gita DasBender’s “Critical Thinking in College writing: From Personal to the Academic”
  • Mike Bunn’s “How to Read Like a Writer”
  • Rebecca Jones’s “Finding the Good Argument OR Why Bother with Logic?”
  • Paul Lynch’s “The Sixth Paragraph: A Re-Vision of the Essay”
  • Laura Bolin Carroll’s “Backpacks to Briefcases: Steps to Rhetorical Analysis”

I skimmed Writing Spaces for entertaining, useful complements to Bazerman and these five caught my eye. They provide more points of views on writing as well as other writing tactics and strategies.



As I read, I’ll be journaling about what I find out. What strikes me, what annoys the heck out of me, and what connections I make between everything I’m cramming inside my poor brain. Each entry will be a page to two pages long.

Quote Page(s):

Any quote I stumble across in my readings will be documented for future use.  Smart quotes, funny quotes, profound quotes: anything that strikes my fancy.


I’ll watch episodes of Star Trek, Firefly, Doctor Who, and anything else SciFi. I’ll have a set of questions I’ll have to answer for each episode and summarize what those answers are at the end.


The first three essays will “summarize” in 1,000 – 2,000 words the worldview, the underlying message and one or two methods the author uses the plot, characters, issues, or other story-element to argue his/ her point of view.

The fourth essay will compare those three authors on their views on civilization OR how these three authors convey their viewpoints within the stories OR some other fascinating topic within the three books. I’ll leave the specific topic flexible.  It will be about 3,000 words or a little longer.

What to do:      

  • Read four books and the Writing Spaces essays
  • Journal about everything
  • Study Critical Thinking booklets and make notes on them
  • Apply critical thinking (more notes) to the three Scifi books and whatever SciFi TV show or movie I’m watching (even more notes)
  • Three small essays (separated over three months)
  • One large essay (over a month)

Yes, I know, I’m completely insane to assign myself all this work. Totally mental and certifiable. But I don’t have to do all of it now. Or next semester. I could do it next summer or wait until after I finish school. Also, I don’t have to do it all at once. I can complete certain parts of this whenever I want. I don’t have a strict schedule, so I can take my time with it. Perhaps I’ll start during whatever break I have left…. Or perhaps not.

Class Course: Part two

Forming this self-syllabus has piqued my interest in teaching, so here’s an idea of how I would break this course down for students. I’ve honed it down so that my hypothetical students don’t panic too much when they see what’s in store for them. Hopefully.


Course Description:

This English will teach critical thinking by applying it to Science Fiction. We’ll look at one scifi book, several episodes of Star Trek, Firefly, and Doctor Who (perhaps a movie as well?) and apply critical thinking to what we read and watch. While it will be a lot of work, I hope to have a lot of fun too!

Objectives: What I’ll teach

  1. Identify an author’s worldview
  2. Identify an author’s underlying message
  3. Identify ways an author conveys both is or her worldview and underlying message (characters, issues addressed and how addressed, symbolism, plot, etc)
  4. Identify what arguments an author makes for his or her worldview


Take Aways: What I really want them to learn

  1. Be able to not take an author at face value, but to objectively consider where he or she is coming from and understand how that impacts his or her work
  2. Be able to apply critical thinking to other things like essays, the news, movies, people, etc.
  3. Be able to integrate critical thinking into your own writing

Reading list:

I’ll focus on one book instead of three. It will have to depend on where, who, when, and why I’m teaching. For a younger audience, perhaps Foundation or Out of the Silent Planet. The Warrior’s Apprentice‘s adult issues and black humor will be reserved for college students.

Each book has its own characters to study, issues to debate, and plot to dissect. The students and I can delve into any of them and find loads to write about. Especially if the students get into the stories and have fun.

Instead of reading Bazerman’s entire book, I’ll use certain chapters to teach from. These are some I’ll definitely use:

  • Chapter 5 “Developing Responses to Readings: Essays”
  • Chapter 6 “Recognizing the Many Voices in a Text”
  • Chapter 7 “Analyzing the Author’s Purpose and Technique”

From Writing Spaces, I’ll still use….

  • Gita DasBender’s essay
  • Mike Bunn’s essay
  • Paul Lynch as a teaching resource, I’ll teach the students what he points out, but they will not have to read him. Although I would love them to, I’m resisting the impulse to let the essays do the teaching for me.

In-Class Work:

TV Episodes/ Movie:

The episodes will serve as platforms into class discussions. We’ll watch half an episode roughly each class period. That will leave the rest of class time for discussion and/ or lecture, depending on what needs to done that day. Criteria = thought provoking, hilarious, and interesting. Collect any favorite episodes from my students?

Instead of Star Trek, we could watch something more along the lines The Matrix or Inception. Perhaps a movie based off of Jules Verne….Or Muppets from Space!


Critical thinking – elements of thoughts, intellectual standards, reasoning, questions to ask oneself

 Background – very basic and objective information on Lewis, Bujold, or Asimov as well as what happened global historical events happened/are happening around their lifetimes.

Class discussions:

The episodes/ book – what’s funny, what’s cool, what’s ridiculous, what the issues raised, what the characters do, what are the consequences of those character’s actions, etc. Basically, how everything in the story serves to reflect the author/producer/creator’s worldview and the underlying message.

Connection with real world – how critical thinking affects news casts, essays for other classes, what other people tell you

SciFi  – what is it about Science Fiction that captures our imagination? Is it discovering strange new worlds and that sense of adventure? Seeing what we could become? Arguing issues about society, theology, philosophy, and ethics without today’s baggage? Watching men and women risk life and limb protecting what they believe? Taking new technologies and hypothesizing about how we could use it to further our knowledge?


Pop quizzes – This way the students will have to read everything I give them. Five quizzes total. Just a five to ten minute quiz on something in the reading. Example: describe one of the five Harry Seldon crises and how they affect the Foundation?

Mid-term: matching of critical thinking material and essay questions. Example: how does the use of Ransom in Out of the Silent Planet as interpreter for Dr. Weston at Meldelorn reveal Lewis’s views on Man the superior animal?

Study tips: general overlook of material = lecture and class discussion notes, power points, journal entries, book passages discussed in class

Final exam: The Final Project will replace this

Poster Presentations:

Five minutes explanation of final project topic – what they are doing, why chose this topic, how did they choose it, where did they get the inspiration (see in-class poster presentation)

Out-of-Class Work:


One to two pages

A reaction to the readings. What the students liked, what they didn’t like, what they predict will happen next. In other words, I want to see their shock, joy, tears, laughter, annoyance, and rage (without preferably vulgar language), and laughter at what ever happens in the story. If they connect it to whatever else we’re going in class, that’s great. If it connects to something at home, that’s great.

Journal entries due every two weeks. I will work hard to grade these within two week increments as well.

Critical Essays:

1,000 – 1,500 words.

Essay 1: They will choose an article from CNN or Fox news or the one of the Montgomery newspapers and apply critical thinking to it. Due during 3 two weeks

Essay 2: What the author’s worldview is, what the novel’s underlying message is, and one or two ways the author conveys those (through the characters, the issues addressed, symbolism, the plot, etc) Due during 7 two weeks

Final Project:

2,000-2,500 word paper:

The student chooses some element of the novel or a particular episode that interested him or her. Perhaps the warp drive, a favorite character, a particular issue raised and dealt with, or a great plot twist.

Then the student has to apply critical thinking to his or her choice. They have to argue how his or her element advances the author/producer’s underlying message and how both the message and the element reflect the author/producer’s worldview.


The student could choose two elements (one from the book and one from an episode/movie) and compare how they advance the author/producer’s worldview, etc.

OR something along these lines.

Poster Presentation:

5 minutes max.

Present the ideas and connections within the paper. The poster serves a visual format for your paper both for the student and for the rest of the class. Fun, creative, outside the box.


10% Class participation

10% Pop Quizzes

15% Journaling

15% Essay

25% Mid-term exam

25% Final Project

Normal Class Day (assuming class meets two days a week):

“Housework” – handing back pop quizzes, journals, discussing what’s coming up next in schedule

(Beginning of week) Lecture on critical thinking, authors

Half of Episode/ part of movie

(End of week) Class discussion of video, books, and essays

Teacher Work before class begins:

Create power-point lectures (what to do when, where, and how)

Consult “teacher’s ” textbooks

Create pop quizzes and assignment sheets

Preview episodes and choose tentatively which ones to use

Tentative chart of what will happen “when”

Class work Teacher Homework
Two weeks 1 Intro into Critical thinking, begin book, first pop quiz, 1st episode, Mike Bunn’s essay Power point lectures, grade journals, pop quizzesAnalyze Informed WriterChapter 7Begin book
Two weeks 2 Essay 1 assigned (week 1) and due (week 2), 2nd and 3rd episodes, Gita Dasbender’s essay Grade journals, Essay 1Analyze Informed Writer Chapter 5
Two weeks 3 Pop quiz, 4th episode Grade pop quizzes, journals
Two weeks 4 5th episode, Catch up grading, make mid-term exam
Two weeks 5 1stweek: Pop quiz, preparation for Mid-term2nd week: Mid-term exam Catch up grading, make study guide
Two weeks 6 1stweek: break (thanksgiving/spring)2nd week: pop quiz, 6th episode, Essay 2 assigned Grade mid-terms, journals, pop quizzesStudent overall grade (morale tactic)Analyze Paul Lynch’s essay
Two weeks 7 1st week: pop quiz, finish book, 7thepisode2nd week: Essay 2 due, Final Project assigned, 8th episode Grade journals, pop quizzes, grade Essay 2Finish book
Two weeks 8 1st week: 9thepisode, last journals,2nd week: presentations (last week) Finish gradingBegin grading papers and presentationsAssign final grades
Published on July 23, 2011 at 5:30 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. What a fun class. I want to sign up! I would really love to apply this perspective to Firefly. I hope you are planning to take Dr. Harris-Fain’s science fiction lit class next spring!

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