Enrolling in college means becoming a member of a new community, the academic community. The goals of this course are to initiate students into this new community by showing them how to participate in it. Since participation takes place mainly through discussion and writing, the course introduces students to genres of academic writing, as well as the process of scholarly debate and conversation.
The heart of the academic enterprise is research and the sharing of information and ideas. Therefore, to practice participating in academic discourse students read dissertations and journal articles, consult with librarians, learn how to participate in research as an undergraduate, attend symposiums, sit in during conference presentations and of course, write their own research paper.
A series of scaffolded assignments walk students through the process of research: from the initial stage of inquiry, to examining the historical context of their topic, to the formation of a thesis, to the crafting of a thesis-driven research paper, and finally to the presentation of their findings to an audience.
A liberal arts education is meant to prepare citizens for participation in democracy, and for traditional students the first year of college represents the start of their adult lives and participation in civic life.
The goal of this course is to introduce students—whether traditional or non-traditional—to the primary methods of civic participation other than voting. Because participation takes place mostly through discussion, debate, and writing, this course introduces students to the genres and methods of writing for a public audience, as well as the process of public conversation, known as public discourse.
To initiate students into public discourse, I focus on the purpose of most civic conversation, the solving of shared problems. Students read contemporary newspaper editorials and blogs, watch televised debates, listen to political speeches, study famous essays such as Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and even attend local government meetings to learn how rhetoric is employed to persuade others.
Over the course of the semester, students identify a problem within their community, investigate past and present conversations about the problem, propose solutions, and then use writing to persuade others and build consensus about the problem.
Students end the semester by leaving the classroom and putting rhetoric into action via petitions, editorial writing, social media campaigns, and other methods of participation in civic debate.