Note to instructors: The English Department's "Reading Days" are on Thursday, October 10th and Friday, October 11th. Meeting for class during this time is optional. As a result, fewer activities are planned in the syllabus for this week. Since students will have started Part 3 of Portfolio 2 - collecting sources for their annotated bibliography - you may decide to give them this time to work at home or in the library. Or, you may decide to use this time to catch up with other things in class.
Collecting sources for the annotated bibliography will help students learn about the recent conversation surrounding their issue. Students' previous experience with research may have involved collecting and simply regurgitating information on a topic. Here, we are asking them to think critically about a) their role as researchers and b) the choices they make as writers, by evaluating their sources for a specified purpose. We hope that this approach gives them a better "real world" sense of how and why writers research and respond to public issues.
Collect Part II - Audience Exploration (5 minutes): Ask students for some informal feedback on this assignment. What did they learn about their audience? How will this knowledge affect the way they approach writing their issue analysis? What would they do differently next time they interview or survey readers?
Assign Part III - Annotated Bibliography (5 minutes): Give students a few minutes to read over the assignment sheet and address any questions or concerns they may have.
Introduce the concept of Positions and Approaches (20 minutes): Since "approaches" are addressed in the annotated bibliography assignment sheet, students will probably raise questions about what this means. Use the following explanation for positions and approaches (or one that you construct) to introduce students to this new concept . We acknowledge (as should you) that others may define "positions" and “approaches” differently outside this class, but for the purposes of CO150, students will need to learn and use these concepts.
The following is just one example intended to illustrate the difference between positions and approaches. Feel free to substitute "legalization of drugs" with your own model topic. You might also find it useful to reference Deborah Tannen's essay "The Argument Culture" from the PHG when running this discussion. For more assistance with planning this activity, see the "Introducing a New Concept" section in the Planning Class Discussion guide located in your appendix.
Discussion of Positions and Approaches: In high school most of us learned to simplify approaches into two categories, "pro" and "con," in order to examine a debate. However, approaches typically run much deeper than "pro" and "con" since every person's views are complicated by various social and cultural factors. Here's an example: Let's say we reduced the issue of legalizing drugs to "pro" and "con"--then it could be said that both government officials and members of religious groups take the same approach toward legalizing drugs, since both groups oppose making these substances legal. A closer examination of the arguments made by members of each group indicates, however, that they do not share the same views. Government representatives are likely to oppose legalization because they claim that drugs are harmful to society as a whole. In contrast, authors who oppose legalization because of their religious beliefs might do so largely because it goes against the teaching of their faiths.
Let’s consider another group--parents. Some of these individuals may oppose drug legalization because their children have become a victims of drug abuse. These positions would differ from those advanced by members of the previous groups due to different experiences that have shaped parents’ lives. However, depending on the specific argument they make, a parent who writes a text protesting the legalization of drugs might share the approach taken by a government official or member of a religious group. Thus, although a parent will have his or her own position on this issue, he or she would take the same approach as that taken by certain government officials and members of particular religious groups.
Yet another group weighing in on the issue of legalization is civil libertarians-who believe that individuals should be free to make decisions about drug use free of regulation by the government. These authors argue that drug use is an individual choice and, even if it harms the individual, is nonetheless something that the individual should be free to do. This argument is similar in many ways to arguments about mandatory use of helmets on motorcycles and even to some arguments that “risky” sports such as skiing should not be regulated by the government.
Two additional groups interested in this issue adopt economic approaches. One group argues that the amount of money the government is spending attempting to combat drug use has largely been wasted. Since drug use has declined only somewhat since the government began fighting the drug war, the government should reconsider its tactics and, as it did when it lifted the prohibition on alcohol, legalize drug use. The core of this argument is that the money now spent on the drug ware would be better spent on societal needs. The other group taking an economic approach - albeit a very different approach - are companies that would view the legalization of drugs such as marijuana as a threat to their viability might include representatives of alcohol and tobacco companies. It's fair to say that alcohol and tobacco companies don't oppose drug use solely because drugs are harmful to people (after all, the consumption of both results in many deaths per year). It’s also fair to say that these authors would be unlikely to come out and say, “Don’t legalize drugs because it will cost us money.” As a result, while representatives of tobacco and alcohol companies might oppose legalization of drugs for economic reasons, they would probably avoid couching their arguments in those terms.
Given these examples, clearly it would be inaccurate to clump these very different arguments into "pro" and "con". If we did, much of the meaning or truth behind the issue would be lost. The goal for a "good" writer of public discourse should always be to produce texts that seek to fairly represent the issues (for the betterment of society). Thus, it can be viewed as dishonest for writers to reduce the complexity of an issue unnecessarily. In part, this is why you (student writers) are being asked to think critically about these different positions and approaches.
After you've read and summarized your sources, look for common threads that cut across sources as a way to group them into different approaches. Here's what it might look like for the example above.
Topic: Legalization of Drugs
Approach 1: Oppose legalization because it is harmful to society as a whole
Approach 2: Oppose legalization for moral reasons because it is against religious teachings
Approach 3: Favor legalization for individual rights reasons
Approach 4: Favor legalization for economic reasons because the war against drugs has been ineffective
Approach 5: Oppose legalization for economic reasons
Of course, you could argue that the government is also economically motivated and that representatives of alcohol and tobacco companies may legitimately believe that drugs are harmful to society. If the support for these claims outweighs the others, you'd need to group the positions of authors arguing about differently. Keep in mind that grouping positions into approaches is far from an exact science; you'll need to read various arguments before generalizing views into approaches in order to represent each group fairly. (Tell students that you'll review the concept of positions and approaches more after they've collected and read their sources for the annotated bibliography. This is just an introduction to the concept).
Mini-Debate on an issue (35 minutes): If you would like to further reinforce the concept that approaches to an issue run deeper than pro/con, try using this activity. The goal of this activity is to have students understand and practice the process they’ll need to go through in analyzing their own issue. One of the most effective ways to reach this goal is to have students generate a debate on a familiar issue. If you’re having trouble coming up with an activity or want ideas, see the sample activity in the appendix that asks students to analyze the positions and values of different authors involved in the issue of the legalization of marijuana. This debate activity can be done with any issue, but the question of whether marijuana should be legalized has worked well in the past because it lends itself to easily describable groups and some interesting alliances that help distinguish between approaches. Whatever activity you plan, be sure to emphasize these key concepts:
· People take different positions because they have different values and concerns.
· There can be different positions within a particular approach (i.e. parents and government representatives might both be against legalization of drugs because it harms society, but parents are likely to make different - most likely more personal - arguments than government officials).
· When we talk about approaches, we’re not referring to pro, con, and something in between. It’s much more complicated than that.
· In making an academic argument, you have to consider and address the audience’s values and concerns (possibly their opposing arguments) in order to be effective.
· We research an issue to get a sense of what approaches exist (e.g. legalizing marijuana lends itself to easily distinguishable groups who would take different opinions).
· For your own issue, you’ll need to find research to show that each approach you identify is actually valid.
Discuss evaluating sources (15 - 20 minutes): The goal for this activity is to guide students in choosing effective sources for their issue analysis. Explain to students that they'll save time researching and writing if they know how to determine which sources will be most useful to them later on. Refer to pg. 588 - 589 in the PHG to guide this discussion and include the following points:
What kinds of sources are relevant for Portfolio 2?
§ Informative sources (facts, dates, news reports, etc..) will help you in the beginning stages to gain background knowledge on your issue.
§ Opinionated sources, written by reputable individuals and groups will be most useful in helping you meet your purpose for writing the issue analysis. These will provide a range of different positions and approaches to help you show that your issue is complicated.
§ "Objective" reports from news sources will not "take a position" on an issue, but they can lead you to more argumentative sources if you follow up with research on names mentioned in the report.
How current should sources be for Portfolio 2?
§ This will depend on the issue you're researching.
§ Discuss this using some of your students' issues as examples.
Which sources are reliable for Portfolio 2?
§ Many of the sources you'll need for Portfolio 2 will contain biases. One of the goals for this portfolio is to examine the ways that beliefs and biases shape a writer's approach to writing about an issue. Therefore, you'll want to collect opinion based texts so that you can analyze where these viewpoints come from and how they affect the conversation surrounding your issue. However, you'll also want to use credible sources. Don't be misled to think that "Robby Republican's" personal web site can accurately represent the views of all Republicans.
**Note to instructors: You may also want to bring in a range of sample texts (on a debatable issue that you choose) to have student practice evaluating texts. Try using editorials, political cartoons, chat room scripts, personal web sites, government documents, scientific texts, and research. Add 20 minutes to this activity if you decide to practice evaluating sources in class. Try putting these sample texts on an overhead in an effort to save paper.