class 1 syllabus

Youth, Democracy & the Entertainment Industries  Comm. 397SS UMass-Amherst, Fall 2020  download syllabus as PDF

Professor:  Joel Saxe Class meeting times:  Tu/Thu.  2.30 – 3.45 pm   

Fully Remote Class   Office Hours: Th 11.30-1.30pm and by appt.  Zoom link:

For all classes, here’s the Zoom link:  

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

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, research, and writing interrogating the nexus, mapping the matrix 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, point-of-view, and develop dialogue practices.
  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. 

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 likely 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.  A challenge:  how to channel youth (learner) knowledge to shape a horizontal rather than hierarchical learning process? 

Course format includes lecture-presentations, discussion, peer collaboration (classroom/out-of-class dialogues, presentations, projects) and media screenings.  Assignments include writing projects (reading response notes, in-class free writes, personal journal reflections, fieldnotes based on peer interviews, group presentations, simple illustration (drawing, cartoons, collage, signage) and a research project.  While the teaching method includes some lecturing, it is fundamentally based on active participation by learners through thoughtful 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 2.30 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 of 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.


  1. Reading response/journal notes 35 points
  2. Interview notes 10 points
  3. Illustrations  10 points
  4. What’s trending/play of democracy group presentation 10 points
  5. Topics project 15 points
  6. 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 8/25 1.  Intro syllabus, breakout rooms

Week 1  8/27 2.  Discuss what’s trending in the play of democracy, youth, and EIs

Week 2  9/1    3.  Critical pedagogy aka popular education

Week 2  9/3    4.  Schooling, testing regimes, systemic racism/classism; lived experiences

Week 3  9/8    5.  Youth situation  

Week 3  9/10   6.  Form cohort interview groups, practice interviewing;  brainstorm illustration

Week 4  9/15  7.  Voice, pov, and youth expressive modalities:  podcasts, vloggers  

Week 4  9/17  8.  Share illustrations; youth expressive modalities: zines, graffiti, culture jamming

Week 5  9/22   9.  Share cohort interview experiences, meanings

Week 5  9/24  10.  Map interviews for youth issues, concerns;  create illustration #2     

Week 6  9/29  11.  Formulate research agenda:  topics, what’s strategic?  Form groups 

Week 6  10/1  12.  Entertainment industry:  how to assess?   Alternative paradigms

Week 7  10/6   13.  Democracy:  theory and practice;  share illustration #2   

Week 7  10/8   14.  Share topic group research

Week 8 10/13   15.  Popular movements

Week 8  10/15  16.  Share topic group research

Week 9  10/20   17.  Popular culture as contestation, appropriation

Week 9  10/22   18.  Share topic group research  

Week 10 10/27  19.  Political economy

Week 10  10/29  20.  Share topic group research    

Week 11 11/3      21.  Labor movement today:  Amazon, tech workers, Red for Ed 

Week 11  11/5     22.  Share topic group research

Week 12  11/10   23.  Share topic group research

Week 12  11/12   24.  Share topic group research

Week 13 11/17    25.  last class