What to Do: The Assignment Task and Basic Guidelines
Your first formal essay assignment for the semester is to write an essay responding to one or two of the eight texts on education we’ve read and discussed in the first week and a half of class. In addition to demonstrating your comprehension of the material presented in these readings, your main task is to articulate and develop a claim responding to the text(s) you choose, assessing the ideas or arguments it/they present or perhaps applying those ideas in your own discussion of education. You may, for instance, choose to argue for or against the ideas presented by a particular author using arguments, reasoning, and evidence of your own. You may choose to compare two texts, perhaps arguing that seemingly opposed texts have points in common or that there are important contrasts between ostensibly similar texts. Perhaps you will argue that one writer’s views are superior to another’s or that a particular writer’s ideas (formulated long ago) are — or are not– useful or relevant to our current context. Whatever your specific direction, you will formulate and develop a claim about the text(s) that moves beyond just repeating their ideas toward an analysis, assessment, or application of those ideas.
➢ Length: 5 pages or more (final version)
➢ Format: Typed; double-spaced; one-inch margins; 12-point font (or smaller)
➢ Sources: Must cite/refer to at minimum one of our class readings; outside research not required though may be useful for some topics
➢ Due Dates: Draft due February 11; final due February 27
➢ Two-text options:
1. Choose two of the three “pre-modern” authors on education that we read: Plato, Hsun Tzu, and Al-Ghazali. Write an essay in which you explore the main similarities and differences you find between the two writers/thinkers. Overall, would they agree or disagree on the purpose and process of education? Whose ideas seem more applicable or appealing today?
2. Choose two of the three “pre-modern” authors on education that we read: Plato, Hsun Tzu, and Al-Ghazali. Consider their arguments about the purpose and method of education in relation to your own major field of study. Whose principles and advice on education are more relevant or applicable to learning within your major?
3. Compare two of the four twentieth-century authors on education that we read: Freire, Feynman, Okakok, and Anzaldua. Write an essay in which you explore the main similarities and differences you find between the two writers/thinkers. Overall, would they agree or disagree on the purpose and process of education? Whose ideas seem more applicable or appealing today?
4. Select one of the pre-modern writers on education we’ve read and one of the twentieth century writers. Write an essay in which you explore the main similarities and differences you find between the two writers/thinkers. Overall, would they agree or disagree on the purpose and process of education?
5. Write an essay comparing and contrasting Anzaldua’s and Douglass’s arguments about language learning and the role of language in maintaining or challenging authority and social distinctions. In what ways might Anzaldua and Douglass agree on the role and power of language? In what ways might they disagree? With whose views do you agree more and why?
6. Consider Douglass’s account of learning to read and write in light of the educational ideas of either Hsun Tzu or Plato. Does Douglass’s account support or contest the arguments made about education in Plato’s or Hsun Tzu’s text?
7. The educational ideals of Plato and Paolo Freire derive from very different cultural and historical contexts. Write an essay comparing and contrasting them. What are the main differences between their ideas about education? Are there any similarities between them? Overall, whose vision of education provides a more useful or powerful model to follow?
8. Compare and contrast Okakok’s and Anzaldua’s discussions of education, particularly of education in relation to one’s sense of identity and community. What major similarities do you find between them? What differences? Overall, do Anzaldua and Okakok agree or disagree regarding the purpose of education?
What I Am Looking for: Criteria for Evaluation
Below are descriptions of the primary criteria according to which I will comment on and evaluate your essays. Refer to these as you draft and revise to be sure you are meeting the assignment’s expectations and for help in conceiving and organizing your paper.
Thesis/Primary Claim: As noted above, your paper should articulate, focus on, and develop a clear claim/thesis about the text(s) you choose to discuss and/or the issues raised in them. This claim or thesis should NOT simply be a general restatement or summary of the ideas presented in the text(s). Instead of general statements repeating the main ideas of the texts, your thesis should present an assessment or explanation of the text(s) that goes beyond basic understanding and requires some demonstration, perhaps articulating a strong position on the issues raised in them. (If you want to come up with a promising or compelling thesis, it’s a good idea to follow our textbook’s advice to “go beyond your first ideas” and “beyond the standard positions” [Austin 574] towards something debatable, perhaps even surprising or provocative.) This could take several forms: You might criticize or defend the arguments a writer makes, claim that one writer’s ideas are superior to or more reasonable than another’s, point out striking similarities between writers who at first seem opposed (or striking differences between writers seemingly similar), or argue that the ideas of a historically remote writer are (or are not) relevant to our current context. In addition to presenting a contestable main claim, your thesis might offer specific reasons in support of your claim. You can often follow up your main claim with these supporting reasons in a “because” clause or in a separate sentence (or two). Overall, make sure your thesis is assertive and specific, presenting a claim requiring at least a few lines of development/support.
Development/Support of Thesis/Claim: As the last sentence indicates, a valid thesis requires some support – evidence or “proof” that your main points are reasonable. For this paper, much (perhaps most) of this support will come from the text(s) you’re discussing. The body of your essay should include quotations and paraphrases of important selections from the text(s) that demonstrate the points you are trying to establish. When you include such textual support, be sure to introduce it adequately (e. g., name the author, explain the context of the section of the text you’re quoting or paraphrasing) and to explain its relevance/significance to the main point you’re making and perhaps to your overall thesis. To make sure you successfully integrate textual evidence, remember the following formula: “comment-quote-comment.” That is, be sure to introduce text, present it (as quotation or paraphrase), and then explain why it is important to and how it supports your point. In some cases, you may introduce experiences, observations, or outside examples as evidence. If you do use such evidence, you should still follow the “comment-quote-comment” pattern, making sure that all evidence is thoroughly integrated into your argument or analysis.
Consideration of Complexity/Alternative Views: In addition to including textual (and possibly other) supporting evidence for the claims or points you make, you should at the same time consider views on the text(s) that may complicate or even conflict with your point of view. A strong essay does not shy away from complexity. Rather, the more you address potential questions about your thesis, the better your essay will be. Therefore, your essay should respond to questions that may arise in opposition to the thesis you’re working on. One way to respond is simply to concede the partial validity of possible objections or questions (perhaps qualifying or moderating your overall argument). You may also refute questions that are raised against your thesis. Doing so often enables you to extend and develop your thesis in ways you didn’t initially plan. Of course, one can respond to alternative viewpoints with a blend of concession and refutation.
Organization: There is no single right way to organize your paper (for example, there’s no specific number of paragraphs every paper should have). Rather, the form of your paper paper should be determined by what you want to say (the claim you make and your support of it, the objections or questions you take up, etc.). Still, there are a few guidelines you might keep in mind when structuring the paper. First, the paper should have a clear introduction that brings the reader into the subject of your discussion and sets up (in general terms) the overall course of your paper. You can do so in an introductory paragraph or two that draw the reader’s attention to the topic of the paper, summarizes briefly the text(s) you will be discussing, and presents your thesis statement. (We will work on writing such introductions in class.) Within the body of the essay, each of the essay’s main points should be treated separately, one at a time. Also, each paragraph should be focused on a single manageable topic, usually announced in an opening or “topic” sentence. Finally, transitional words, phrases, and sentences can help you make links between your paragraphs and larger points clear for your reader. We will work on such organizational strategies in more detail later in the term.
Mechanics/Style: You should make sure to edit and proofread your paper as thoroughly as possible in order to avoid basic grammatical errors, to document your quotations and paraphrases, and to present your ideas as clearly as possible. Since the essays you will be writing address abstract, often complex ideas and incorporate others’ ideas, it may be difficult to write clearly without thorough attention to detail. Therefore, during the revision process, we will pay attention to and spend class time on important issues in grammar and style, and we will set aside time for editing your papers in class.