Essay Assignment

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GWRTC 103: Spring 2010

Essay 1: Using Argument to Discover Ourselves

Argument is a truth-seeking process we use to enact positive change. Using argument, we discover ourselves and our world, and work together as a community to find the best solutions to the problems we face.  During this unit, we have explored argument, and looked at examples of writers digging into their own identities and using argument to discover themselves.  As you craft your argument, look to your own identity to uncover truths (the best solutions to problems); consider the ways your insights can benefit others in your community. You will engage in a conversation with your readers as you work with them to solve a problem.  Remember that argument is not about proving yourself right, nor is it about winning--it is about discovery.  You might just find that you change your own mind as you work toward change.

To meet these goals, please select one of the following prompts to begin your journey. No matter which topic you choose, you must establish an appropriate audience and a specific purpose for your essay. One goal of this course, and, more specifically, this assignment, is to help you develop strategies for critical thinking and writing in your personal, academic, and civic lives. While the essay must be argumentative in nature, how you craft your argument is up to you.  I encourage you to challenge yourself and your readers, and to take risks as a writer; growth and learning require us to step outside our comfort zones. Be sure to select a topic that inspires you. Understand the urgency of the problem you are choosing to explore, and communicate that to your audience. Answer the questions "So what?" and "Now What?" for yourself and your readers.

The content of your essay must reflect more than superficial thought; demonstrate your critical thinking skills. Your essay should also reflect your understanding of the principles of argument that we have discussed so far this semester. Essays should be approximately 1250 words; be sure to include the word count at the bottom of the last page. Since this is a relatively short essay, be sure to select a topic that is narrow and specific enough to fully explore in four to five pages. Follow research and document design guidelines (available under "Course Documents" on Blackboard), and keep the grading criteria in mind. Using vivid details to support your ideas is especially important for this essay. In order to fully support your points with evidence, you must have at least three reliable outside sources for this paper and you must make use of library resources. Due dates and other paper policies appear on the syllabus. Be sure to turn in all prewriting, drafts, workshop materials, and hard copies of your sources with your essay.  Please use the essay checklist under “Course Documents” on Blackboard to help you prepare your essay for submission. Make good use of the resources available to you. I encourage you to invite as many readers, including peers and the Writing Center tutors, as you would like to read your drafts; just be sure to have anyone who reads your draft sign your draft, to indicate that you have received feedback. 

Please see me with any questions or concerns. I’ll be happy to help. 

1. Our identities are often shaped by the way others see us.  Whether it’s David Sedaris pondering what it means to be “smart,” Nick Corbell exploring what it means to be “a college student who happens to be gay,” Leslie Haase negotiating her Italian-American identity, or Sherman Alexie insisting on being a “smart Indian,” the writers in this unit write about the pressure from others to be, think, act, or feel a certain way.  Consider ways that pressures from the outside have shaped your own identity.  Have they limited you and kept you from being yourself?  Or have they freed you to discover the person you would really like to be?  After generating ideas, be sure to select a specific form of social pressure and a specific incident or set of closely related incidents that reveal this pressure. Write an argumentative essay in which you not only explore the specific limitation on your identity, but also make a larger claim about it (for example, you might argue that this form of social pressure must end, or, you might explore the benefits of certain social pressure). Be sure to select a specific audience and purpose for your essay, and to work with your readers to explore solutions. 

2. Leslie Haase vividly depicts her family’s Saturday morning and holiday rituals, and explores the ways her family attempts to shape her, for better or for worse.  For Sherman Alexie, his devotion to his father sparked a passion for reading.  Clearly, family members and friends do have a significant impact on our lives. Consider a specific incident or set of closely related incidents involving a family member (you choose how to define "family") or close friend that helped shape your identity. Now consider the greater personal, social or political significance of that incident, similar to the way Haase turns her essay into a negotiation about cultural heritage.  Write an essay in which you craft an argument based on your experience with your family member; use the insights you've gained, as well as the research you will conduct, to seek answers to a problem we face; remember the goal is not simply to tell a story, but to use that story to negotiate, explore, and discover new truths. 

3. Unfortunately, people sometimes use stereotypes to judge, discriminate against, or otherwise harm others.  Sherman Alexie writes that “we were Indian children who were expected to be stupid.”  Nick Corbell uses humor as he confronts the stereotypes directly, while Sedaris humorously navigates around them.  Consider an incident (or set of closely related incidents) during which you were either the victim or perpetrator of stereotyping or discrimination. What did you learn from this incident? What can your reader learn from this incident? After reflecting on the incident and its consequences, write an essay in which you craft an argument based on this experience. Honesty helps establish ethos and builds a bridge between you and your readers, so be sure to be honest with your readers and yourself. Work with your readers to solve a problem, and be sure to listen carefully to other perspectives. 
4. Throughout her essay, Leslie Haase explores a heritage that simultaneously frustrates her and gives her life meaning; she concludes that while she may not remember the way her mother wants her to, she will never forget.  Sherman Alexie uses his experiences to critique the treatment of American Indians, while also recounting his own determination to resist.  Explore your own background and history to discover something you want to both remember and forget.  Try to examine the good and the bad, the frustrating and the uplifting, in your story.  Then, craft an argument based on your discoveries; remember to use your story to seek truths, and to work with your readers to discover a solution to a problem.

5. Sherman Alexie argues that through writing and reading, “I was trying to save my life.”  Consider your own life, and the times you have encountered adversity.  What helped you survive?  What have you, in your own life, done to save your own life?  Perhaps, like Alexie, literacy was your salvation.  Or, perhaps, you found strength another way.  Consider how your own insights might help someone else going through a difficult time or experiencing adversity.  Now, craft an argument in which you explore your story and the larger social and political implications of your story.  (For example, through Alexie’s essay, we see the terrible injustice in our treatment of American Indians).  Use your story to seek solutions, and to reach out to your readers. 

6. In consultation with me, design your own topic; it should be a topic you care about. You may select a topic related to the readings, to the unit, or to the general goal of using argument to explore identity and discover ourselves. Start with yourself, and consider the events, issues, questions, and problems in your life that demand exploration.  What issues call you to write?  Because it’s vital to write about a topic that interests you, feel free to create a topic of your own, or to adapt one of the above prompts to fit your needs as a writer. However, you must get my approval before you begin composing your essay. I reserve the right to refuse unsuitable topics. Be sure to stay away from tired topics; join a conversation to which you can make an original contribution.

Again, please let me know if I can do anything to assist you.

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