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Rogerian Argument Structure.
The Fallacy of Hasty Generalization.
Sample Student Essays.
Four-Part Written Exploration and Articulation.
Reading Literature and Writing Argument is based on the premise that writing is valued when it makes readers think. This premise implies, of course, that a person must have ideas—something to say—in order to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. However, the notion that these ideas must have value can be daunting to the individual who is staring at the blank page or screen. This is where literature—stories, poems, plays, essays—can play a vital role, one too often overlooked in students' overly busy, information-laden lives. Literature can unlock the gate to students' imaginations and open the window for creative envisioning.Likewise, the study of argument is vital to compelling students to think clearly and objectively.
Students can practice the skills of analysis and evaluation and, in doing so, develop critical standards and criteria for judging ideas. For example, Henry David Thoreau's essay, "Civil Disobedience," is an argument, and students learn when they examine his assertion that the individual's first responsibility is to maintain his or her own integrity. Similarly, students learn from examining the arguments made in a play by Sophocles, in a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, or in a story by Ed Vega.
Literature liberates thinking, and argument disciplines it. The combined and complementary forces are inspiring and empowering. With our students' experiences in the two composition courses as our guide, we have attempted to harness the courses' complementary strengths in Reading Literature and Writing Argument.
Chapters 1 and 2 introduce and explain the terms and tools of argument. Chapters 3 through 6 present literature pieces centered on four enduring themes: "Individuality and Community," "Nature and Place," "Family and Identity," and "Power and Responsibility." Following each reading selection are questions that invite students to apply the argument terms and tools from Chapters 1 and 2. In this way, the literature pieces offer a practice field for the tools of critical thinking. Also, a number of writing topics are provided to generate longer written responses and, thus, to prompt students' ideas for writing their own arguments. Following Chapter 6, the appendices, "Notes on the Writing Process" and "Notes on Using Sources and Creating a Draft," address specific challenges of writing an argument and include references to student sample papers in Chapter 2. Also, a student sample Rogerian argument paper is presented at the end of Appendix A.
Chapter 1, "Reading to Explore and Examine," opens with a brief discussion of academic argument and presents a core concept: Reading literature is a prompt for rooting out and exploring the underlying values that inform our responses to the world around us. We then introduce basic argument structure and several rhetorical concepts that relate argument to audience appeal and tone. In selecting terms and concepts to feature in Reading Literature and Writing Argument, we chose the tools our classroom teaching experiences have identified as particularly useful to students, both as readers and as writers. Chapter activities reinforce the argument terms and concepts and give students a chance to practice applying them to their reading of some literature pieces.
Chapter 2, "Writing to Evaluate and Articulate," features the reasoning process—how we form opinions and arrive at conclusions. To begin, we challenge students to develop a habit of questioning the foundation of their opinions by evaluating their thinking process. Again, taking a lead from our experiences in the first-year college composition classroom, we decided to highlight the common fallacy of hasty generalization. Also, a brief overview of deduction and induction helps students see how the reasoning process works in argumentation and gives them an additional tool for evaluating their own thinking, ideas, and opinions, as well as those of others—from a speaker in a poem to a character in a play.
From thinking about how we think, we move in Chapter 2 to the process of writing argument, which we present as five basic tasks. We offer illustrations of writers, both professional and student, applying these tasks. The last section of the chapter presents a four-part written exploration and articulation activity, a process that draws on the concepts from Chapters 1 and 2 and culminates in the students' writing their own arguments. The four-part activity directs students to explore their own thinking about a designated subject; to explore the subject in the context of several literature pieces; to explore the subject by doing some research; and, finally, to articulate an issue and claim, gather support, and compose their own arguments. We present four sample student essays, including two longer research projects: one illustrates the process of the four-part exploration and articulation activity and one features the final product, the research-based argument paper. Lastly, chapter activities are provided to give students some hands-on engagement with the core concepts introduced in the chapter.
For the anthology chapters (Chapters 3-6), we chose theme headings that are broad and that directly affect students' individual lives. We believe that students appreciate the opportunity to explore their own thinking processes within these contexts. Also, the themes invite students to draw connections, not only among the readings within a single chapter, but also among readings in any of the four chapters. For example, some family issues that students may identify in Chapter 5 readings can be related to responsibility issues in Chapter 6 readings. Students may draw on their reading experiences from several chapters as they explore an issue and move toward the writing of their own arguments. Again, we include chapter activities to stimulate students' thinking about their reading experiences and about potential issues for writing an argument.
To borrow from Robert Frost's statement on poetry, Reading Literature and Writing Argument is designed to bring both "delight" and "wisdom" to first-year college students' composition experiences. We believe that students will enjoy reading the literature pieces, practicing critical thinking skills, and exploring different perspectives on issues close to their own lives. And finally, students will discover they have a wealth of ideas as well as the critical acumen to compose a written argument that will compel their readers to think. The blank page or computer screen will present a welcome invitation to students to speak out and to be heard, to make choices, and to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others.