Language, Education and Identity: Writing Assignment for Pre-Transfer Level

Background: We spent the first half of the semester exploring our “hidden intellectualism,” the academic skills we use in non-academic pursuits, then turned to questions of language and identity. We have explored the various forms of English we use with different people in different settings, recognizing that one version is not necessarily better, but certain forms are more appropriate in certain settings. For example, so-called “standard” English is most appropriate in academic and professional settings, but learning how to use it correctly does not mean you must set aside your identity. Also, we have been reading from the book “They Say / I Say,” which explains that academic conversation happens when we put our ideas in conversation with the ideas of others. Now we are going to practice balancing multiple viewpoints in discussions of language and identity.

Goal: To respond to one or more of the readings from this unit in three ways by agreeing, disagreeing, and balancing opposing viewpoints.

Your Task: Choose one or more of the readings from this unit (Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue,” Eric A. Watts’ “The Color of Success,” Tanya Barrientos’ “Se Habla Español,” Marjorie Agosín’s “Always Living in Spanish,” Jeff Jacoby’s “Watching Oprah from Behind the Veil,” Deborah Tannen’s “Gender in the Classroom,” and Jon Katz’s “How Boys Become Men”) and identify a central question (such as, are variant forms of English acceptable in certain contexts? should everyone who lives in America learn standard English? how should we treat people who speak non-standard English? what is the relationship between language and identity? does academic success require us to set aside our cultural identities? should America be monolingual or multilingual?).

We are then going to write two shorter papers responding to a reading or readings you have chosen, exploring opposing sides of the issue. At the next stage, you will combine, revise, and reshape your two shorter papers into a complex and balanced academic argument, carefully weighing multiple perspectives.

2nd paper, part 1: In a 2-3 page double-spaced paper in MLA format, respond to one or more of the readings by agreeing or disagreeing with the author. Your thesis should be a specific policy suggestion for a specific group, answering the question “Who should do what?” For example, you could argue, “Immigrants should learn standard English in order to succeed in American society,” “Teachers should encourage students to choose careers that challenge racial stereotypes,” or “The California government should encourage bilingual education in public schools.” Be sure to lay out your argument in carefully organized stages, following the argument worksheet for this paper. Make sure each paragraph addresses only one specific point. Support each point with many quotes, facts and examples from the class readings and outside research, as well as your personal knowledge and experience.

First draft due Monday, March 25th. Bring three copies for workshopping.

Polished draft due Friday, March 29th. (No rewrites allowed at this stage.)

2nd paper, part 2: In a 2-3 page double-spaced paper in MLA format, take the opposing side of the issue and present a counter argument, framed as specific policy suggestion for a particular group. Your thesis should answer the question “Who should do what?” and make the opposite point of your previous paper. For example, you could argue, “Immigrants do not need to learn standard English in order to succeed in American society,” “Teachers should encourage students to choose careers that they are best suited for, even if those careers are typical for their cultural groups,” or “The California government should enforce an English-only rule in public schools.”

Even though you may disagree with the points you are making, you must play what Peter Elbow calls “The Believing Game” and present the argument as thoroughly and fairly as possible. Be sure to give the argument in carefully organized stages following the argument worksheet, and support each point with many quotes, facts, and examples from class readings and outside research, as well as your personal knowledge and experience.

First draft due Monday, April 8th. Bring three copies for workshopping.

Polished draft due Friday, April 12th. (No rewrites allowed at this stage.)

3rd paper: In a 4-6 page double-spaced paper in MLA format, synthesize the various sides of the argument, but argue in favor of one side. Your thesis should address both sides of the issue, but argue in favor of one side. For example, you could argue, “Although learning English is not necessary in America, immigrant should learn English in order to succeed,” “Teachers should encourage students to resist racial stereotypes, but they should encourage students to go into careers they are best suited for,” or “The California government should require English education for all students, but should also make all high school students take classes in other languages.”

Be sure to lay out your argument in carefully organized stages according to the argument, moving back and forth between your opinion and opposing viewpoints, demonstrating how your position is stronger than the counter argument, but giving concessions to the other side, acknowledging the valid points they are making. Support each point with many quotes, facts, and examples from the class readings and outside research, as well as personal knowledge and experience.

First draft due Monday April 15th. Bring three copies for workshopping.

Polished draft due Friday, April 19th.

Revisions are due one week after I return the scored paper. You may only revise this paper once.

Basic requirements: The paper must

  • be clear and relatively free of grammar and punctuation errors.

  • have specific wording, strong sentence focus and active verbs.

  • give the overall arguments in a debatable thesis, which suggests a policy change for a specific group, answering the question “Who should do what?”

  • present main points in logical steps, according to the argument worksheets.

  • support each point with many, many quotes, examples, facts and anecdotes.

  • include outside research

  • have catchy introductions and thought-provoking conclusions.

  • fairly present each side of the issue.

  • capture the complexity of the issue.

  • include in-text citations and a works cited page in MLA format.

  • incorporate a naysayer and metacommentary, as described in “They Say / I Say.”

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