class 1 syllabus Spring 2021

Youth, Democracy & the Entertainment Industries  Comm. 397SS UMass-Amherst, Spring 2021  download syllabus as PDF

Professor:  Joel Saxe Class meeting times:  Tu/Thu.  4 – 5.15 pm   

Fully Remote Class   Office Hours: Th 11.30-1.30pm zoom link:

For all classes, here’s the Zoom link:

To download and import this iCalendar (.ics) file to your calendar system:

syllabus link:

The entertainment industries (EI) target young people for their tremendous market force and cultural sway.  How do the imperatives of market-driven media culture correspond with principles of democracy?  This course will engage dialogue, reading, and writing interrogating the nexus, mapping the matrix, the articulations between youth, the entertainment industries, and the play of democracy.  How do we make sense of and become active agents in its politics, representations, contestations, political economy, and utopian possibilities?

Some goals and objectives:    

  1. Reflect on one’s personal relationship to the EIs and a sense of democratic agency.
  2. Express one’s voice and point-of-view through inscribed (written, artistic) and dialogic forms.
  3. Critically analyze media texts.
  4. Engage critical pedagogy to make the classroom a site of democracy and the common good. 
  5. Work collaboratively, practice empathy, active listening, and build connections with learning cohorts.
  6. Connect critical thinking with visual expression.
  7. Develop our capacity to imagine a transformed future, to envision what another system might look like. 

Engage critical pedagogy to make the classroom a site of democracy and the common good.

  • Open vs. locked-in curriculum.  At this moment of systemic breakdown — viral pandemic, economic insecurity, ideological polarization due to racial animus, social isolation, climate crisis —  to not make the classroom a place to interrogate these issues as they impact youth seems like donning horse blinders while the world’s on fire.  The syllabus sets an opening framework to be modified through learner input.
  • Channel youth knowledge through dialogic reciprocity.  Given the tremendous rate of change driving the entertainment industries and youth engagement, a challenge is how to bring youth (your) knowledge to the table.  Reciprocity in the learner-teacher dialogue involves instructor transparency, sharing the thinking and challenges shaping the “narrative” guiding course goals, content, assignments, and assessment.  While learners are typically socialized to have everything outlined in advance, this method calls for creative thinking, flexibility, communication, and engaged stewardship by learners.   
  • People before projects.  While this should always be true, at this moment of multiple stressors, the social-emotional wellness of learners and teachers is a priority.  Some class meetings will include breakout rooms where people check-in on how they’re doing.  As the building of social support has migrated online, shared reflection on this process becomes a way of growing mutual aid practices to help youth and others face the isolation and disconnect many are feeling.  The schedule moves slower.  Less is more.      
  • Innovate online possibilities.  On multiple levels, we’re living through an unprecedented moment in human history.  Digital technology has become the primary channel of interpersonal, group, and institutional communication.  While the inability to connect in-real-life is a tremendous loss, the online platform has created new possibilities for communication within families and communities, local to global.  We’ll notice and name these innovations to consider how they may enhance and integrate into the teaching and learning process.       

Our teaching and learning is guided by Paulo Freire’s notions of critical pedagogy (aka popular education) where learners draw from lived experiences to formulate questions and directions for study.  The tentative curriculum is fluid and will change based on learner input and teacher-learner dialogue.  The topic of youth and the entertainment industries puts learners on the cutting edge of everyday trends in popular culture.  How do we channel youth (learner) knowledge to shape a horizontal rather than hierarchical learning process? 

Opening curricular sequence:

  1. Community-building dialogues on lived experiences of democracy
  2. Introduce critical pedagogy as the method guiding the teaching and learning process
  3. Dialogue on curriculum goals and elements:  pleasures, perils, possibilities; liberty & justice for all
  4. Engage praxis model through peer interviews to shape a YDEI agenda

Course format includes lecture-presentations, discussion, peer collaboration (classroom/out-of-class dialogues, presentations, projects) and media screenings.  Assignments include reading response notes, personal journal reflections, fieldnotes based on peer interviews, group presentations, and simple illustration (drawing, cartoons, collage, signage); no final project.  While the teaching method includes some lecturing, it is fundamentally based on active participation by learners through dialogue, presentations, writing, illustration, and group collaboration.  Group projects may require meeting with cohorts and instructor outside class time.

The syllabus, assignments, and readings/media are all posted on Moodle which links to the course blog subject to modifications.  Reading response notes are generally required for the assigned readings and serve as the basis for classroom discussion: 1-2 paragraphs, no longer than a page.  Include name, date, and assignment title; single-spaced, proofread.  Send as a Google doc to instructor:  Keep all your reading response notes on one rolling Google doc with lines separating each assignment.  Instructor will post comments and points on the Google doc; points (grades) will also be posted on Moodle.  

We start promptly at 4.00 pm; instructor will open Zoom room and be online 15 minutes early and stick around after class.  Late attendance, unexcused absences, and tardy work will lower grade; 3 unexcused absences will lower grade a full point.  This last rule is qualified by recognition of the diverse situations and extenuating circumstances people face; for adjustments, please inform instructor of any issues affecting attendance, access, and other challenges.  Unless specifically for class work, no unrelated mobile device activity.  Scale: 100-95 A; 94-90 A-; 89-85 B+; 84-80 B; 79-75 C+; 74-70 C; 69-65 D+; 64-60 D.  

To check in, instructor will schedule individual meetings with all students.

Collaborative homework method:  for (some) weekly assignments, learners will meet in classroom-set breakout rooms to Zoom chat on the set topic.  The goals are to build a supportive peer learning community, deepen the dialogue begun in class, and formulate a joint commentary.  Protocol:


  1. Reading response/journal notes 40 points
  2. Interview notes 10 points
  3. Illustrations  20 points
  4. What’s trending/play of democracy group presentation 10 points
  5. Class participation 20 points

Class participation:  Attendance, active listening, participation in full class and group activities, willingness to take on group tasks, e.g. scribe, respect for other classmates including confidentiality, posting & discussion on course social media; class-curriculum stewardship means taking responsibility for class process and lessons; if they’re not working, talk with cohorts and instructor.  NO SMARTPHONE USAGE  during class.

Criteria for evaluating assignments

  • obvious effort
  • responsiveness to assignment questions & directions
  • for written work:  coherence, clarity, effective organization, correct grammar & spelling 
  • imagination, creativity, originality
  • where appropriate, thoughtful integration of issues & concepts raised in class sessions & readings 

If you believe you’ve been unfairly graded or have other concerns about the class, please talk to me.  Open, direct, honest, and prompt communication on problematic issues is encouraged.     

week 1

2/2   1.  Intro syllabus, breakout rooms

2/4   2.  Lived understandings of democracy

Week 2

2/9   3.  Critical pedagogy aka popular education

2/11  4.  Illustrate Covid days and schooling IRT YDEI

Week 3

2/16   5.  What to study?  Pleasures, perils, possibilities; the carnivalesque

2/18   6.  Youth as innovators; Facebook “what’s trending” protocol, how to assess?

Week 4

2/23   7.  “What’s going on?”; youth situation interviews  

2/25   8.  June uprising-Capitol storming:  map industries, issues, articulations

Week 5

3/2   9.  Youth as “trouble”; school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, the Dreamers  

3/4  10.  What’s trending FB posts #1     

Week 6

3/9   11.  Hip-hop, youth subcultures, resistance 

3/11 12.  Black Lives Matter, Kaepernick kneel, Nike, incorporation

Week 7

3/16   13.  Oppression matrix, toxic masculinity, Barstool Sports    

3/18   14.  What’s trending FB posts #2    

Week 8

3/23   15.  #MeToo, intersectionality

3/25   16.  Feminism & being an ally

Week 9

3/30 17.  Youth as consumer, Gen Like

4/1 18.   What’s trending FB posts #3

Week 10

4/6   19.  Youth as precariat, political economy

4/8   20.  Peer interviews, your experiences        

Week 11

4/13   21.  Youth as rebel,  global youth protests

4/15   22.  What’s trending FB posts #4

Week 12

4/20   23.  Alternative paradigms:  commons, coops, labor unions    

4/22   24.  The Social Dilemma, media literacy  

Week 13

4/27   25.  Imagining alternatives:  social media as public utility?  

4/29   26.  Finishing up reflections 

Week 14

5/3   27.  Reflections, assessment