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Phase I: Close and Critical Reading to Enter into a Conversation

In the first phase of CO150, we’re exploring the rhetoric of green.  People from various walks of life and various fields of study are talking about green energies, green jobs, green economies, green products, and green cars.  It seems as if the whole world has been colored green, marking this as a conversation that engages many contemporary, concerned citizens.  In CO150, we want to think critically about how people are saying things as well as what they are saying.  In other words, we want to closely read the conversation about green topics and have students critically evaluate the rhetoric employed by those engaged in the debates.  We have selected readings and films from several media outlets including academic journals like the Columbia Journalism Review, popular magazines like Newsweek, and other print and visual sources such as a keynote address given at an Environmental Youth Conference, a web movie, and a full-length documentary.  The work of these professionals from various fields of study and interest clearly shows how people are talking about green issues in very different ways.  By looking at the rhetorical strategies that professionals have used in these texts, we hope to demonstrate to our students how necessary it is to read closely and critically before delving into a conversation.  We also hope that these texts demonstrate the range of values and strategies available within academic discourse.

The texts we’ve selected engage us in answering the question, What is the rhetoric of green?  In other words, how are people using words and images within the context of “green”?  How are green ideas presented differently for different audiences and for different purposes?  The writers we’ll read and listen to rely on first-hand reporting as well as research that often spans several disciplines.  In this way we are exposed to how these writers and thinkers begin to enter into the conversation themselves—how they synthesize what they have learned and present arguments that respond to some of the questions and discussion found in our contemporary society.  Our readings not only offer examples of green rhetoric, however, but they also offer examples of forms of discourse highly valued in academic contexts.  By focusing on such texts, students and instructors alike can examine how successful writers engage in conversations.

To this end, Phase 1 focuses on close and critical reading.  We ask students to read several texts (articles, films, speeches, interviews, and blogs, among others) for various purposes, employing a range of critical reading strategies.  Our primary goal for this portion of the course is to establish critical reading practices that enable effective inquiry and support an understanding of writing as a rhetorical practice.  The writing assignments and class activities are designed to teach such critical thinking practices.

We start with close reading of texts to practice strategies for accurate comprehension of information and arguments.  For our purposes, close reading will include identifying arguments, clarifying key points, and demonstrating comprehension of a text.  Critical reading follows close reading quickly.  Critical reading, for our purposes, means recognizing rhetorical situations and identifying the relationship between rhetorical components.  In other words, critical reading addresses the how an argument is composed rather than what is said.  We will ask students to read several short texts, each with very different aims and audiences:  Daniel Quinn’s speech “A Path of Hope for the Future,” Daniel Stone and Anne Underwood’s “Green, Greener, Greenest,” and Paul Hawken’s “To Remake the World.”  Our purpose for reading these pieces is to learn how various writers, with various purposes, enter conversations about green ideology and how they employ green rhetoric.  To assess students’ close and critical reading practices, we will ask them to complete Assignment 1:  write an academic summary and analytical response to one of the texts. 

For Assignment 2, students will build from Assignment 1’s major skills (listening closely and responding critically to what’s been said) by synthesizing ideas from different texts.  Students will bring together common or contradictory ideas from the films and articles that appear to students worthy of a critical discussion with their peers.  This critical discussion will take the form of a primary blog post, followed by thoughtful and informed responses to three classmates.  This assignment goes beyond the first by expanding rhetorical possibilities, such as purpose (opening a critical conversation) and audience (writing to an active class community, one which will respond to the initiated discussion).  In this way, students will be introduced to writing as a rhetorical practice—both as critical readers and as writers experimenting with new rhetorical situations.