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Paper 2: Analyzing the College Experience: Examining Barriers to Education

Breneman, GWRIT 103
Fall 2008

Argument is a truth-seeking process we use to enact positive change. As we explore our own ideas, we also look at the ideas, information, and arguments generated by others. Writing is a conversation, and in order to enter the conversation, we must fully understand what other people are saying; we accomplish this through research. Research is a fundamental part of the college experience, but also something we do every day in our personal, academic, and civic lives.

With this in mind, select one of the following topics to develop into a 4-5 page (1250 word minimum) essay. No matter which topic you choose, you must establish an appropriate audience and specific purpose for your essay. While the essay must be argumentative in nature, how you craft your argument is up to you. One goal of this course (and assignment) is to help you develop strategies for critical thinking and writing in your personal, academic, and civic lives. Remember, too, that we argue in order to seek change that will solve the problems we face. 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.

The content of your essay must reflect more than superficial thought on the subject. Follow all paper and research guidelines, and keep the grading criteria in mind. For this paper, you must cite at least 6 sources; use proper MLA documentation. This must be an original essay written in response to this assignment. The JMU Honor Code applies to this and all work done in this course. Due dates and other policies appear on the syllabus. Please see me with any questions or concerns.

1. Identify a problem at JMU that endangers the educational and/or social experiences of students here. Consider exploring a problem that has been ignored or overlooked; that way, you'll be able to make a unique contribution to the discussion.  Keep in mind that some topics, such as sleep deprivation, eating disorders, binge drinking, Title IX, affirmative action and diversity have been covered extensively, which will make it harder for you to make an original contribution; on the other hand, we have yet to arrive at a solution to these problems. So, whether you choose a topic that has been widely covered, or one that has yet to receive the attention it deserves, be sure to craft an original and meaningful argument. Research the problem thoroughly, using a variety of sources. Write a paper in which you craft an argument about the problem you have identified and explored. Remember to be as specific as possible, and follow the guidelines for a researched argument. 

2. In "The Mountain," Louise Gluck identifies a lie that artists tell; though at first she tries to pass along that lie to her students, she eventually tells herself and her students the truth. Identify a lie (or myth, or misconception) that you have heard. Examine and research that lie.  Who perpetuates the lie? Why do they do so? Keep in mind that the reasons can be very complex, and sometimes the myth is perpetuated with the best of intentions.  Also, how can we correct that lie?  (Notice that Gluck does all of these things in her poem). Now, craft an essay in which you argue for the correction of the lie, answering the above questions. Or, perhaps you'd prefer to argue that the lie serves a purpose and should remain in place. Whatever you choose to argue, remember to select an appropriate audience and support your claims with solid reasons and evidence.  If the lie is a deeply-entrenched one, it will take a good deal of evidence as well as acknowledgement and response to convince your audience.  Tone will be particularly important; you don't want to alienate your audience. Try to debunk the myths while still respecting those who believe in them.

3. In "Reaching for the Sun in Nigeria," Ibrahim Lamay explores problems Nigerian students face as they seek an education.  Consider your  educational journey so far.  What people, decisions, or life events have helped you get where you are today?  What obstacles stood or still stand in your way?  What are your future plans, and what things will help you meet them?  As you reflect on your own education, consider what could have been or could still be done to enhance the positive influences and/or eliminate the obstacles.  Be sure to focus on ONE particular issue or event within your experience, and select a narrow and specific thesis to develop. Now, craft an argument about this specific issue in education that may help other students as they pursue their own goals.  Keep in mind all the options for crafting an argument that are available to you.  Remember to select a specific audience and purpose, and to pick a topic that is narrow enough to fully develop and support with specific reasons and evidence. 

4. The author of "New Study Finds College Binge Drinking to Be a Blast" uses satire to lampoon our sometimes foolish attitudes about binge drinking in order to change those attitudes. Consider an issue that we have not gotten right; in other words, think of the foolish attitudes we have toward a specific issue. Now, examine and research your topic, exploring the issue as well as the problems with our attitudes toward it. Craft an argument in which you A) use satire to explore the topic and our attitudes toward the topic in order to enact reform or B) use a more conventional argument to persuade your audience that we need to rethink our attitudes toward this topic. Whichever method you choose, be sure to apply your critical thinking skills, choose a specific audience and argumentative purpose, use evidence to support your claims, and think carefully about persona, tone, and establishing a connection with your audience. Remember, also, that more specific your topic, the more you will be able to develop and support your ideas.

5. In consultation with me, craft a topic of your own; the topic should, in some way, relate to the idea of  the college experience and/or education (but, remember, education can take many forms). As with the last essay, feel free to adapt one of the above topics, or to choose your own adventure. You, and your reader, will be happier if you select a topic that interests you. Consider making a list of things that matter to you--hobbies, extracurricular activities, family, something you learned in this or another course, and so forth, then brainstorm from there. Or, you can choose a subject you know very little about, but have always wanted to explore. The library can be a great place to start your search; while you're there, pick up an encyclopedia, search the Internet, browse the stacks, or talk to a reference librarian. After selecting an interesting and appropriate topic, select a specific audience and purpose for your essay. Be sure to narrow your topic into a specific arguable thesis. If you need additional help or have any questions, please contact me.



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