B is for breathing

The recent study at UC Irvine on “student entitlement” and “grade inflation” has been bouncing around the internet. Here are a few takes from Jezebel.com, Scholars&Rogues and studentactivism.net. The last of these is clearly the most thoughtful because the author examines the methodology used to arrive at astonishing claims such as “A third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures”. In fact the statement which students were asked to consider was “If I have attended most classes for a course, I deserve at least a grade of B”– hardly the same as “just for attending lectures.” 

What’s interesting for our purposes is that here again we have a situation in which fact and value collide. Surely some people will take UC Irvine’s study as an opportunity to emphasize their own positions, many of which will be all too flat and reductive. Though I haven’t read all the responses to this study– one, we should remember, that we’d know absolutely nothing about were it not for the fact that someone in the mediascape thought it merited our attention– of those I have perused no one yet has made what seems to me to be perhaps the most obvious claim of all: students and the institutions they attend are a product of the wider social formation whose values and ideologies they both absorb and (albeit often in distorted form) reflect. In other words, if the culture at large reduces every question– personal, political, aesthetic– to the crude calculus of cost/benefit, if the very consciousness of the nation is totally structured by a kind of market logic, then is it any wonder students will respond in like fashion? 

This isn’t to let those who view college as a McDonald’s of the mind off the hook. Just to say that The University, as an institution, and certainly the society which produced it, share responsibility. 

Okay. Now here are the guidelines and prompts for your first paper:

The Guidelines

Paper #1, worth 25% of your course grade, is due 6 March at the beginning of class.  Choose one of the prompts below.  Articulate a coherent thesis—i.e., a non-trivial claim based on your analysis of the specific material referred to in the prompt—and substantiate it with well-organized, accurate, and richly detailed references to course material.

The paper must be double-spaced with normal margins.  Use a reasonable font (i.e. no courier or jumbo sized, crayola font).  The paper should be five to six (5-6) pages long, or a minimum of 1250 words.  I do not accept emailed or faxed papers. Pages numbered. Stapled. No title page. Name/course/date/title on the first page.

Note: Papers that do not follow the guidelines will NOT be accepted. No late papers barring some catastrophic, life-altering event (pulmonary embolism, earthquake, implosion of sun, etc.)

Your own thinking should constitute the core of the essay, but you are required to use outside resources to support your analysis which should be meticulously cited following MLA guidelines.  Citations of scholarly articles may be helpful, but you may not cite sources like Wikipedia, Sparknotes, and Cliff Notes; if you have questions about the appropriateness of any sources, talk to me or a university librarian.

The Prompts

1. It has been said that as a sub-genre of autobiography the American slave narrative not only narrates the life of an individual but represents the circumstances and ambitions of all enslaved African Americans. Formulate an argument based on this claim by comparing and contrasting the works of Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass.

2. The subject of the first unit of this class is expressed in the phrase “getting free.” According to Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs what does freedom mean? What is the relationship between the dream of freedom and its practical realities for those authors, and how do their views compare to some of the ways freedom is mobilized or discussed in contemporary American life?

3. Open Topic: write on one of the topics we’ve touched upon in class thus far such as Nat Turner (and, more generally, slave rebellions), John Brown, or minstrelsy. Be advised this is possibly the most difficult option for the first paper. Your topic will need to be approved by me.


Finally, for Friday, Feb. 27: Bring (and be prepared to discuss) a preliminary thesis for your paper and a working bibliography to class. 

3 thoughts on “B is for breathing

  1. Pingback: Planned Obsolescence » Blog Archive » Teaching Carnival 3.2

  2. Alyssa

    I think the due date to be march 6th is too soon. If you’re really serious about our papers being scholarly papers, then you should let the students have more time to think and organize their thoughts on their prompt in order to present a paper under your standards. Maybe a week extension would be fine.


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