Phase 1 Introduction

In the first phase of the course, we're studying the work of an accomplished writer who addresses the question-at-issue: What should we eat? Michael Pollan is a professional writer and journalism professor whose writing for The New York Times exemplifies the thorough research, critical thinking and clear communication we ask our students to strive for. By looking at the strategies used by a writer who is trying to answer a significant question-at-issue as he approaches varying rhetorical situations, we hope to demonstrate critical inquiry-in-context that shares values and strategies with academic discourse.

Pollan's writing engages us in answering an enduring and significant human question--What should we eat? He relies on firsthand reporting as well as his reading from agriculture, food science, history, and other disciplines. His New York Times articles show us how a writer pursues a question-at-issue, synthesizes what he learns, and presents arguments for ethical and healthful eating. In this way, his work is an example of a form of discourse highly valued in academic contexts. By focusing on Pollan's articles, we can examine with students how a successful writer engages in critical inquiry and communicates the results to critical readers.

To this end, Unit 1 focuses on close and critical reading. We'll ask students to read several articles for various purposes, employing a variety of reading strategies. Our primary goal for this unit is to establish critical reading practices that will enable effective inquiry and support an understanding of writing as rhetorical practice. The following writing assignments and class activities are designed to teach and assess such reading 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 information and recognizing rhetorical strategies. We will ask students to read a series of short articles from the Nation by various authors and three New York Times magazine columns written by Michael Pollan, all of which address the question: What should we eat? Our purpose for reading these pieces is to learn how various writers address the question-at-issue. To assess students' close reading practices, we will ask them to write summaries of the readings.

After reviewing close reading strategies and discussing various responses to our question, we will continue our inquiry by employing critical reading strategies as we read three longer pieces by Pollan from the New York Times magazine. These articles deepen inquiry into the social, cultural, ethical and environmental consequences of American eating. As we continue inquiry into our question-at-issue, we want to sharpen critical tools for not only understanding Pollan's arguments but also for analyzing, evaluating and responding to them. We hope to engage students in examining how one writer presents the answers he found to the question through research and critical thinking. By analyzing and evaluating the effectiveness of Pollan's writing, students can continue inquiry into the question (through making decisions about information and posing further questions). In addition, students will be introduced to writing as rhetorical practice by examining how Pollan's articles address the rhetorical situations in which he wrote them. We'll assess students' critical reading practices with a review/letter at the end of this phase.