University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Department of Writing Studies

Writ 1301

UNIVERSITY WRITING: Breaking Bad, The Wire, and the War on drugs.

FALL 2012

4 credits (download syllabus here)


Instructor: Andy Buchner


Phone: 231 590 0763  This is my cell number. You can feel free to text me with any questions/concerns, but please do not call me.

Classroom: Nicholson 145

Time: M/W/F 10:10-11:00 AM

Office: 338 Nolte Hall

Office hrs: W 11 AM-12 PM and F 12-1PM

Course website: . This will be our primary website for the class. The syllabus, schedule, major assignments, the power point or prezi slides from my lectures, and all readings not listed under the required materials section below will be available at this website for you to download at your convenience.

Twitter: ( ): If you want to receive reminders and live updates about what is going on in class, then you can join the class Twitter feed. I will post reminders about upcoming assignment due dates and anything else relevant to the course. Search for AndyTeaches1301 on Twitter and follow the account. Twitter can be linked to your mobile phone through text messaging as well. If you have any questions about this, feel free to ask. The account can be reached at the following URL: .


Through frequent practice and study of writing, WRIT 1301 introduces students to typical university writing practices, including an emphasis on developing well-researched, properly cited papers. WRIT 1301 fulfills the first-year writing requirement.

Activities include but are not limited to: introduction to academic genres of reading and writing; critical reading and analysis of writing for rhetorical principles of audience, purpose, and argumentative strategies; emphasis on performing research with electronic and print library; and sequenced readings and writing, with a researched paper as major assignment.

Members of the class will practice using writing to develop, refine, and communicate ideas in academic contexts.  Students should expect to write formally and informally, produce drafts, read and respond to each other’s drafts, and revise, edit, and proofread.  In addition students will share their writing with others in the class, receive responses from others, and read and respond carefully to the work of others.

All of this means that the class is structured around writing activities, discussion of reading and writing, and group work of various kinds.  Students need to be active participants in this course, and help insure the success of the course for all by making positive contributions to activities, assignments, and discussion.

This section of Writ 1301 will examine in detail several texts that speak to the effects of economic forces on social reality—that is, how movements of money, resources, and commodities affect our culture and how we live. There is an underlying economic or “material” component to virtually every part of our society and how it functions. While economic forces do not necessarily “determine” one’s social reality, factors such as where a person lives, goes to school, what that person eats, reads, or watches on television, and the overall range of options and opportunities available to him or her is directly influenced by local, national, and international movements of capital and resources.

To understand how society and culture affect and are affected by economic forces, this class will examine several texts that deal with the war on drugs, poverty, and class. Breaking Bad, a critically acclaimed TV drama starring Bryan Cranston, examines the effects of America’s demand for narcotics on both sides of the border, and considers how economic choices can also be ethical or moral decisions. The Wire focuses on some of the same issues as Breaking Bad, although it is primarily concerned with Baltimore and urban decay, whereas Breaking Bad examines the drug war through a different context. Through the comparison of these two shows, we will consider how the war on drugs and its attendant assumptions affects the lives of disparate people in different ways. Through a critical examination of these texts through the lenses of class, economics and Marxist literary theory, we will explore the connections between material reality, society and culture.

A Disclosure: The Wire and Breaking Bad are both brilliant works of art. However, like many great novels and films, they contain coarse language and considerable profanity. There are scenes with overt drug use, and the issue of drugs is a constant in the series. There are also scenes of violence, although none that are gratuitous or, by today’s movie standards, especially graphic. And there are a few scenes with nudity and, as the ratings system puts it, “strong sexual content.” Students who might be offended or put off by such content are forewarned.

At the successful conclusion of WRIT 1301, students will learn to:

Develop a process of writing

• control prewriting and planning strategies to arrive at a focused topic
• craft thesis statements that indicate a clear position on a topic and tie the paper together
• develop a topic through clearly structured paragraphs and the whole paper so that ideas are fully explained, assertions are backed up, supporting evidence is sufficient and claims are credible

• produce a researched paper
 that analyzes, synthesizes, and documents source material
• through the sequence of assignments, develop a body of knowledge and growing perspective on a topic

Explore diverse contexts and styles of reading and writing

• communicate their ideas and those of others to specific audiences
• write in appropriate academic genres and computer media to communicate with different audiences

• make choices in their own writing and articulate other options

Practice disciplines of research and study

• identify an author’s audience, purpose, argument, and assumptions (i.e., critical reading) in an analysis paper or class discussion
• locate and evaluate relevant scholarly and popular sources on a research topic using library resources
• properly and ethically use MLA or APA documentation format for in-text and external bibliographic citations of scholarly, popular, and electronic sources
• consistently follow standards of written, edited English


  • Breaking Bad Season 3 (this is available through Netflix or through various online options used). It can also be purchased online used for relatively cheap. If you are having trouble finding a copy, then feel free to come to me and I will find a way to get one in your hands.
  • The Wire Season 3. (ditto above although the Wire is not available through Netflix).
  • Students may spend up to $10 photocopying or printing drafts.


Students can expect to spend an average of eight hours per week on this course outside of class time.


Portfolio 1: Scene Diaries 5%: Informal diaries using 3 scenes from Breaking Bad to introduce you to the discipline of close reading/analysis and familiarize you with the terms and techniques of film analysis.

Portfolio 2: Close/Critical reading: 15% Critical/analytic essay demonstrating use of close/critical reading inquiry. Focused on one major work (or a set of related shorter works). Final paper = 3-4 pages.

Portfolio 3: Research Blogs (10%) and Research Project 20% (a) 5 Informal research blogs (including a prospectus) to generate ideas for your paper and explore different texts. 750 words each, and (b) Critical/analytic essay demonstrating use of historical and/or cultural inquiry. Focused on an analysis of the ways in which social factors shape the actions of characters in Breaking Bad + secondary research. Final paper = 4-6 pages.

Portfolio 4: Group Critical Discourse Analysis 15% Students research different portrayals of a current event and seek to outline the different ideological positions behind each writer and analyze the ways in which each position is determined by social factors.

Portfolio 5: Remediated Reflection Project 10% (Remediate and dramatize one of the characters in Breaking Bad through a social networking (e.g. Twitter or Facebook) site as they respond to current events. This will also include a 750 word reflection on how the knowledge you gained in your class contributed to your ability to complete this project.

Participation: 10%  (Includes such items as discussion, peer review, and other group work, informal writings.  Note: negative, or disruptive participation may lower  your grade)

Reading Quizzes: 10% Throughout the course of the semester, I will give you ten quizzes on the required reading. These quizzes will be multiple choice and will cover

major parts of the required readings. These quizzes will be relatively easy. Their main purpose is to ensure that you have done the readings and that you are prepared for class discussion.

Discussion Questions: 5% Throughout the course of the semester, you will be required to write discussion questions in response to the class readings. These will serve as a basis for our class discussion.

• You must turn in all required drafts and revisions.  If you do not, then you will not be able to receive above a C- in this class.

• Late assignments will be downgraded one full letter grade per day late (e.g. a B would drop to a C). However, I will give you one extension for the class. You can choose to use this at anytime throughout the semester, although I recommend holding onto it as long as you can. The extension will allow you to turn in a paper one class day late with no penalty. If you have a good reason for why a paper is late, and you have already used your extension, I may be willing to work with you.

• Keep copies of all your work in a folder dedicated exclusively to this course; back up your work on your computer in case assignments get lost.  The University provides a resource for this. But you could also use a flash drive or a program like Dropbox ( .

The grading policy in this course conforms to University guidelines. Therefore a “C” is equivalent to basic fulfillment of requirements; to achieve a grade higher than a “C” a student must perform beyond the basic requirements. Please keep the following scale and criteria in mind:

Grading and Transcripts:

The University utilizes plus and minus grading on a 4.000 cumulative grade point scale in accordance with the following:


4.000 – Represents achievement that is outstanding relative to the level necessary to meet course requirements






3.000 – Represents achievement that is significantly above the level necessary to meet course requirements






2.000 – Represents achievement that meets the course requirements in every respect






1.000 – Represents achievement that is worthy of credit even though it fails to meet fully the course requirements


Represents achievement that is satisfactory, which is equivalent to a C- or better.

For additional information, please refer to:


A grade of incomplete (“I”) is given only in a genuine emergency, and generally only for work which is due during the last two weeks of the course. The student must make written arrangements with the instructor for an incomplete before the last day of class.


The University does not permit students to submit extra work in an attempt to raise their grade unless the instructor has specified at the outset of the course that such opportunities are afforded to all students. I usually include 1-2 extra credit opportunities per semester, so I will be sure to notify you when those opportunities arise. These opportunities are usually only afforded to those people who attend class that day, so you should know that if you are not in class, then you will probably not be eligible for extra credit.


Unlike many courses at the University, first-year writing courses are small, discussion-oriented classes. This means that a large number of absences on a single day will cause class discussion to suffer and hinder the goals of the course. It will also punish your fellow students by depriving them of the opportunity to hear your ideas and share theirs with you.

Students will not be penalized for absence during the semester due to unavoidable or legitimate circumstances. Such circumstances include verified illness, participation in intercollegiate athletic events, subpoenas, jury duty, military service, bereavement, and religious observances. Such circumstances do not include voting in local, state, or national elections. For complete information, please see:

A student who is absent for any reason is responsible for all material and activities missed in class. Students must check with the instructor to find out was missed.

Students are responsible for coming to class on time. Tardiness may be considered equivalent to unexcused absences. In addition, a student who is unable to function adequately in class (e.g., falling asleep or attending without appropriate materials or assignments) may be considered to have unexcused absences.

Student Conduct Code

The University seeks an environment that promotes academic achievement and integrity, that is protective of free inquiry, and that serves the educational mission of the University. Similarly, the University seeks a community that is free from violence, threats, and intimidation; that is respectful of the rights, opportunities, and welfare of students, faculty, staff, and guests of the University; and that does not threaten the physical or mental health or safety of members of the University community.

As a student at the University you are expected adhere to Board of Regents Policy: Student Conduct Code. To review the Student Conduct Code, please see:

Note that the conduct code specifically addresses disruptive classroom conduct, which means “engaging in behavior that substantially or repeatedly interrupts either the instructor’s ability to teach or student learning. The classroom extends to any setting where a student is engaged in work toward academic credit or satisfaction of program-based requirements or related activities.”

Use of Personal Electronic Devices in the Classroom

Using personal electronic devices in the classroom setting can hinder instruction and learning, not only for the student using the device but also for other students in the class. To this end, the University establishes the right of each faculty member to determine if and how personal electronic devices are allowed to be used in the classroom. For complete information, please reference:

Scholastic Dishonesty

You are expected to do your own academic work and cite sources as necessary. Failing to do so is scholastic dishonesty. Scholastic dishonesty means plagiarizing; cheating on assignments or examinations; engaging in unauthorized collaboration on academic work; taking, acquiring, or using test materials without faculty permission; submitting false or incomplete records of academic achievement; acting alone or in cooperation with another to falsify records or to obtain dishonestly grades, honors, awards, or professional endorsement; altering, forging, or misusing a University academic record; or fabricating or falsifying data, research procedures, or data analysis. (Student Conduct Code: If it is determined that a student has cheated, he or she may be given an “F” or an “N” for the course, and may face additional sanctions from the University. For additional information, please see:

The Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity has compiled a useful list of Frequently Asked Questions pertaining to scholastic dishonesty: If you have additional questions, please clarify with your instructor for the course. Your instructor can respond to your specific questions regarding what would constitute scholastic dishonesty in the context of a particular class-e.g., whether collaboration on assignments is permitted, requirements and methods for citing sources, if electronic aids are permitted or prohibited during an exam.

Plagiarism can include submitting a paper:

  • written by means of inappropriate collaboration;
  • written by you for another course, submitted without the permission of both instructors;
  • purchased, downloaded, or cut and pasted from the Internet;
  • or that fails to properly acknowledge its sources through standard citations.

For resources on how to appropriately use and cite sources, and to avoid plagiarism, see:

Appropriate Student Use of Class Notes and Course Materials:

Taking notes is a means of recording information but more importantly of personally absorbing and integrating the educational experience. However, broadly disseminating class notes beyond the classroom community or accepting compensation for taking and distributing classroom notes undermines instructor interests in their intellectual work product while not substantially furthering instructor and student interests in effective learning. Such actions violate shared norms and standards of the academic community. For additional information, please see:

Sexual Harassment

“Sexual harassment” means unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and/or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or academic environment in any University activity or program. Such behavior is not acceptable in the University setting. For additional information, please consult Board of Regents Policy:

Equity, Diversity, Equal Opportunity, and Affirmative Action

The University will provide equal access to and opportunity in its programs and facilities, without regard to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, gender, age, marital status, disability, public assistance status, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. For more information, please consult Board of Regents Policy: .

Disability Accommodations

The University is committed to providing quality education to all students regardless of ability. Determining appropriate disability accommodations is a collaborative process. You as a student must register with Disability Services and provide documentation of your disability. The course instructor must provide information regarding a course’s content, methods, and essential components. The combination of this information will be used by Disability Services to determine appropriate accommodations for a particular student in a particular course. I will do my best to accommodate any needs you have. Please let me know what I can do for you. For more information, please reference Disability Services: .

Mental Health Services

As a student you may experience a range of issues that can cause barriers to learning, such as strained relationships, increased anxiety, alcohol/drug problems, feeling down, difficulty concentrating and/or lack of motivation. These mental health concerns or stressful events may lead to diminished academic performance and may reduce your ability to participate in daily activities. University of Minnesota services are available to assist you. You can learn more about the broad range of confidential mental health services available on campus via the Student Mental Health Website:

Academic Freedom and Responsibility

Academic freedom is a cornerstone of the University. Within the scope and content of the course as defined by the instructor, it includes the freedom to discuss relevant matters in the classroom. Along with this freedom comes responsibility. Students are encouraged to develop the capacity for critical judgment and to engage in a sustained and independent search for truth. Students are free to take reasoned exception to the views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion, but they are responsible for learning the content of any course of study for which they are enrolled.*

Reports of concerns about academic freedom are taken seriously, and there are individuals and offices available for help. Contact the instructor, the Department Chair, your adviser, the associate dean of the college, or the Vice Provost for Faculty and

Academic Affairs in the Office of the Provost.

* Language adapted from the American Association of University Professors “Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students”.


Students can get one-to-one-consultations on any course paper or writing project at Student Writing Support.  Student Writing Support has several campus locations, including the main location in 15 Nicholson Hall.  See for details about locations, appointments, and online consultations.

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