Please choose any ONE of the following options for your first essay — ideally the one you find most intriguing or interesting — for an interested writer will be more likely to produce an essay that’s interesting to readers!
1. Conduct a rhetorical analysis (WA 93-97) — a sustained close reading or critique — of an (ideally-education-related) ad, flyer, brochure, or website, or of one of the cultural artifacts listed below. Look for patterns (WA 8-9) and bring to light not just what the ad/brochure/website/artifact articulates, but what it does NOT say: the questions it does not ask, the topics that are not covered, etc. Expose how that artifact supports a certain agenda while, perhaps, neglecting or negating certain others). Make sure that it’s clear to your audience why understanding the (perhaps hidden) agenda of this artifact matters. Consider, as appropriate, the interpretive context (date, place, intended users/audience, similar works by the same author/company). Possible cultural artifacts to investigate:
— A specific (permanent) physical object on campus, such as a campus building. Consider location, design, decoration. Who is it intended to affect, and how?
— a course syllabus
— a promotional brochure for any campus organization or for UCSC as a whole (consider comparing and contrasting UCSC’s self-promotional material with that of Stanford or Santa Clara University – check out their websites). Analyzing Admissions Office information would be especially welcome. How does UCSC sell itself? What aspects of the campus does it promote, and what does it de-emphasize or omit?
— a commercial or ad (especially an educational or a political one).
See WA 95-96 (sample rhetorical analysis of an ad) or 65ff. (sample analysis of a magazine cover) for examples. And you might particularly want to review Tuchman’s discussion of educational branding (Reader 224ff).
2. Write a focused essay critiquing any one of the major articles we will have read thus far: Graff, Merrow, Sacks, Sperber, or Washburn (Tuchman, Reader 224 ff., offers yet another perspective, for those of you wanting to hear another voice in the debate). Do you agree or disagree with the general argument or situation the author presents? Are there any assumptions (unspoken values/beliefs) that you find problematic or evidence that you don’t find compelling; do any factors
exist the author didn’t consider? Be sure to interrogate your own assumptions in framing your response, and (especially if you are challenging the author’s evidence in any way) to provide some evidence of your own. If you wish, construct your essay as a letter to the author. If you present your ideas as a formal essay rather than a letter, imagine your audience to be your classmates who have read the piece but not thought about it as thoroughly as you and who may be somewhat skeptical of your claims. Make sure that it’s clear to your audience why this issue matters.
3. How does Graff’s concept of “cluelessness” relate to/compare with Merrow’s “invisible student,” Sacks’ “entitlement” or Sperber’s theory of distraction? Do any of these theorists suggest a factor another one omits? (I.e., can you use Washburn or Sperber, for example, to draw attention to a factor Sacks or Graff fails to consider?) Can you think of any additional factors that contribute to cluelessness/disconnection/invisibility?
4. Do you agree with Sperber’s provocative claim that students often get “shafted” (chs. 7-9)? Does UCSC demonstrate (or publicize) “a commitment to undergraduate education” (Sperber 77)? To what extent? Be explicit in offering evidence for or against. Frame as a letter to Sperber or to any university administrator, if you wish.
5. What factors work against good teaching and/or good learning? Focusing on 1-3 of the most important causal factors, establish a conversation with one or more of our authors and one or more live people here at UCSC, staking out your position clearly at the beginning and providing sufficient evidence to convince those who see things differently.
6. What Graff seems to suggest is benign neglect, Sperber almost calls a conspiracy. Choose a side (or a middle ground), identify the roots of their disagreement, and provide evidence for or against Sperber’s more extreme view.
7. Are students at UCSC clueless? invisible? distracted? entitled? Why or why not? To what extent? What (if anything) should change, and why? Frame a conversation on this topic between one or more of the authors we have read and you. If you wish, be creative: stage as a play or a dialogue (if you select the creative option, your essay will need to be 6-7 pages long, since a staged dialogue incorporates so much white space.)
8. (Stylistic analysis): How does the WAY a writer writes affect his audience/their perception of the subject matter? For example, Tuchman’s style is very different from that of any other author we’ve read: why, and how does this relate to what she is trying to accomplish? OR Some critics charge that Graff’s “obfuscating” style undermines his own purpose. Do you agree? Why or why not? OR Our two journalists, Sacks and Washburn, write in very different styles from each other. What are the effects of each style? OR compare and contrast the style of Graff in Clueless with Graff in They Say I Say, and reach conclusions about the significance of these differences.
9. Write a letter (perhaps to the author or creator) exposing the problems with some (ideally education-related)
ad/brochure/structure/object/event/situation, and/or propose changes to it. For example, impersonating a web designer, you might offer suggestions to UCSCs webmaster for how s/he could improve the UCSC homepage, or you could offer advice to the Admissions Office about how they could attract a different type of student if they wished, or warn them that they may be causing students who otherwise might valuably contribute to UCSC to choose other schools. You could write to your provost re a change you’d like to see at your college, or to the head of some organization you’re involved with re how to recruit more
effectively, or how to achieve more effective publicity, or whatever. Write to as specific an audience as possible (even get names if you can!), and be sure to follow Trimble’s advice from ch. 1 re “serving the reader’s needs”: seeing things from your reader’s perspective and addressing that reader’s values and concerns.
10. Write a letter to a (specific) friend/classmate/dorm mate re what s/he should do to get more out of his or her education. (What if that friend doesn’t want more? You might need to argue first that being invisible, etc. is not a desirable state. For some, it might be! I.e., be careful what you assume.) OR (harder!) write a letter to a professor, suggesting what he or she could do to more effectively reach students. Be careful not to simply condemn the professor, but to appeal to his or
her values, to make it seem in his or her own best interest to make specific changes.)_ Write in such a way that you could imagine _actually sending_ this to your friend or professor, and that person actually willingly receiving it (not feeling attacked or preached to) and seriously considering the changes you recommend. (Derede’s note: this may be the most difficult option, b/c you have to appeal to your audience using THEIR values; you must not come across as preachy or
self-righteous or whiny.)
11. Identify a specific issue on campus that people are discussing or something that you’d like to see changed. Keep your topic as narrow as possible: “Eliminate art as a GE for engineers” rather than “Abolish GEs altogether.” In short, you want an issue you can discuss fairly thoroughly in five short pages. Next, brainstorm evidence and assumptions typically relied on by each “side” in the debate. Take a side, and write to people (skeptical members of the opposition) to convince them to do or believe as you say or to acknowledge that your way of understanding the situation is correct. To do this, you’ll first need to indicate that you understand the various perspectives and what they depend on as evidence and assumptions. I don’t expect (or even want) you to do formal (library) research, but I do expect you to talk to people. Include their voices in your paper (be sure to identify who they are as you do so) and then situate your own voice and views (as refuting, elaborating on, or
extending theirs). You may wish to write on the topic you first identified in the informal two-page paper, or you may wish
to save that topic for a future paper. Ideally, your position (thesis) should appear in your first paragraph, so your readers know what’s at stake (unless you think you may offend your audience, in which case it might be better to introduce your views “through the back door,” leading up to them slowly but not revealing until the end).
The short version of option 11: find a peer or a campus organization that says something you disagree with, and write an essay (a letter if you wish) to them indicating (gently) where they are mistaken and why they should see things your way or do what you’d like to see done. As Graff puts it in CiA, “Find someone out there you can disagree with [or expose the limitations of], restate his or her point, then put in your own oar” (202). Make sure that it’s clear to your audience why this issue matters.
Note that this last option will be available for every paper. Indeed your research essay or proposal will strongly encourage you to identify a problem on campus and suggest a change. I don’t want you to worry about procuring outside (library/web) research at this time, but I DO want you to talk to people, to give a sense of the conversation.
Evaluation criteria: Review your own “Keepers” to be sure, first and foremost, that you’re working on whatever you think is most important to writing a good paper. Check out the rubric I’ll use to respond to your essay. And finally, as Trimble and WA suggest, strive for
* a sense of engagement with your topic (i.e., YOU should be interested in it, and should attempt to interest your reader too), and a sense of why the topic is worth the writer’s and reader’s time.
* a title and an opening paragraph that draw the reader in and reveal something of the content (Trimble ch. 3 and WA ch. 11)
* one central thesis (argument/claim), articulated in your opening paragraph ideally (because that’s clearer for your reader) that follows the suggestions in WA 143-4 and ch. 12) and that all of your subsequent points/paragraphs try to prove
* a sense of the conversation that exists about your topic (include and even direct your paper to others’ points of views): the sort of thing Graff promotes and himself tries to accomplish
* clear direction/organization – what Trimble calls a “plan of attack” (rather than random points in random order). Each subclaim that supports your main argument should have a separate paragraph(s): don’t smoosh two different subclaims in the same paragraph (neither will get the attention it deserves, and it will be more confusing for your reader to keep your points straight). ONE IDEA ONLY per paragraph is key.
* compelling evidence for your claim (accurate, specific, sufficient, clear, relevant, and representative) – ideally in something approaching a 1:1 ratio with your claims (WA chs. 7-8). Beware evidence without claims and claims without evidence. Don’t ask your reader to “just take your word for things.”
* quotes used selectively and judiciously, integrated into your own writing and appropriated for your own argument (i.e., you’ve analyzed whatever you’ve quoted, and used it to enhance rather than substitute for your own argument). Graff and Birkenstein (ch. 3) have good advice about using quotes. Feel free to draw from the ideas (yours or those of others – so long as you acknowledge the source of any ideas that didn’t originate with you) that have circulated in class discussions or on the email list; indeed one of the goals of this assignment (whichever option you select) is that you give your reader a sense of the “conversation” percolating around your chosen topic.
* no problematic assumptions (values) for your stipulated audience
* smooth connections to bridge every sentence and paragraph; a sense of “flow” (They Say/I Say ch. 8; Trimble 46-48). Remember that transitions at the beginnings rather than the ends of paragraphs are usually smoothest for your reader. Use plenty of transitional phrases, synonyms, and pointing words to create these bonds.
* please use 12 point font with 1″ margins, paginate, STAPLE, and acknowledge any sources (don’t worry about any particular technique at this point).
No matter which prompt you pursue, here’s how to begin:
–> Look for a problem, something people disagree about, or something that people in the past have interpreted wrongly or insufficiently (or maybe not noticed at all). Observe it or gather evidence about it (if you’re analyzing a text, reread it and take notes on it). Look for the “presence of tension….the pressure of one idea against another idea” (WA 143-4) or some moment of “instability” (this term is Graff’s in CiA), where people disagree or where more could be going on with whatever you’re analyzing than the average person can see.
–>Try to develop an “idea” (WA p. 27), explore it/gather evidence for it (notice details), and then offer an interpretation as to what those details mean – i.e., make an argument – that seems reasonable and ideally convincing to your reader.
–> Think of your reader as someone specific (like your roommate or department head or Gerald Graff or Gov. Brown or your state legislator or a prospective student) and make it your goal to say something to that person that offers insight into (an “idea” about) an artifact, event, situation, or text which that person otherwise wouldn’t have thought about very deeply
(so because you’ll make her “think,” the issue from your reader’s perspective will seem significant and worth her while) and about which that person might disagree. Seek to establish a conversation in your paper — at the least, between yourself and your reader; ideally, between several different voices/views (though your voice/view/ideas are of course the dominant ones, the ones you hope your reader comes away from your paper believing). And be sure to “share your thought process with your reader” as WA puts it.
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