Students ‘Break Bad’ to Build Good Writing Skills

[caption id="attachment_6412" align="alignnone" width="600"]Breaking Bad Student Freshman computer science and Spanish major Thomas Wingate discussing casting and writing with classmates in Columbus State University's “Breaking Bad and American Issues” course.[/caption]

--- What adjectives best describe lead character Walter White’s mindset? Is there a conflict between how white- and blue-collar crime is viewed? What messages do the doorways, alleyways and the show’s music send?

English professor Sundi S. Rose ping ponged these emotionally charged questions to her students about critically acclaimed crime drama “Breaking Bad” as part of her modern, animated-styled English 1102 course: “Breaking Bad and American Issues.”

“This spring semester we watched Season 2 of ‘Breaking Bad,’” said Rose, a fast-talking teacher and pop culture professional writer. “My students have spent the semester learning how to watch and write about pop media. The course is about taking the text and analyzing it with a critical eye, and they’ve got it.”

The TV series follows White, played by Bryan Cranston. A chemistry teacher, White lives in New Mexico with his wife and teen. White is diagnosed with Stage III cancer and learns he has limited time to live, thus transforming from a meek family man to a kingpin of the drug world.

“It’s not your typical class — for sure,” said Thomas Wingate, freshman computer science and Spanish major of Cusseta, Georgia. “The class involves a lot of class collaboration and creative writing. She even tweets us discussions about ‘Breaking Bad’ and the dos and don’ts of writing.”

Throughout the series, Rose’s students have explored issues of gender politics; immigration; drug culture and legislation; feminism; toxic masculinity; the American economic recession and middle class; and health care.

“All while we talk about these topics,” said the Columbus native, “I’m sneaking critical thinking through the back door to help prepare them for future coursework across campus.”

The class setup is simple: Students subscribe to Netflix, watch episodes weekly and probe the show’s social issues during classroom discussions, group workshops and peer reviews.

“I’m not a strong writer,” said Rebekah Cherry, freshman early childhood education major of LaGrange, Georgia. “Well, I thought I wasn’t until I got into this class. I’ve really taken my writing from vague to specific, because she forces us to look at every detail and every angle of these episodes.”

The “Breaking Bad” course also includes three major papers, which involve the development of strong thesis statements, providing textual evidence and researching secondary sources to support claims.

[caption id="attachment_6415" align="alignnone" width="400"]Sundi Rose Columbus State University English professor and pop culture writer Sundi S. Rose uses critically acclaimed crime drama “Breaking Bad” as part of her modern, animated-styled English 1102 course.[/caption]

The class is just one of many innovative courses Rose teaches at Columbus State throughout the academic year.

Each semester her courses range from exploring the controversial musical work of artists Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar to blockbuster film “Straight Outta Compton” to Marvel’s TV series “Jessica Jones.”

“I watch anywhere between 35 to 40 shows,” said Rose. “I absolutely love TV and will watch anything once.”

In addition to pop culture, Rose’s courses at CSU focus on composition and Southern literature.

The freelance writer and critic blogs about pop culture and how it effects shared identities. Rose serves as a contributor to publications Entertainment Weekly, Hello Giggles, Daily Dot, Indiewire and PopSugar as well.

Her contemporary teaching techniques to English make students more apt to engage in classroom discourse after watching each episode.

“This course definitely changed my perspective on society,” Wingate said. “Just from watching the show and having open dialogue in class has helped my writing and understanding of the types of issues that affect and shape people.”