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ENG 112: Dual Enrollment: College Composition II (Stephens-LO)

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For more information about the debate project assignment, please contact your instructor.

Project and Assignment Guidelines

Debate Project:

A typical high school research project involves choosing a societal, cultural, or political issue. Examples come readily to mind: the legalization of marijuana and the regulation of guns. Students choose one side of that issue and write a research paper defending that side.

This kind of project is a nice match for what often passes for civic debate in our society. The conversation about the issues is rarely to learn but to persuade. But persuasion usually fails because the sides on a given issue are often polarized and don’t really listen to each other.

The structure of the high school research project may also help to perpetuate our civic world’s lack of listening and learning. Many research projects are structured so that each student works either alone or in pairs but not in real conversation with those who will oppose his position. Further, students assigned to a position aren’t free to change their views as they read research with others. In other words, instead of narrowing their issues themselves for debate, students have the issues pre-narrowed for them. The project, therefore, comes across as rather artificial, and the resulting papers and debates offer little or no new insight.

We’ll try something different. Each writer will read two books that explore a general question. These two books aren’t diametrically opposed, and the debate between them isn’t a head-on collision. Instead, the two books meet each other obliquely. The writer’s job is to synthesize the two books, arriving at how the books might be understood to complement each other.

Each writer will work with three other writers. These writers will have demonstrated to me their interest in the general question and their commitment to working with the group to explore that question with these books. As they read and discuss the books, the four writers will use their comparison tools from ENG 111 to synthesize the books and to narrow the book’s differences in their approaches to the group’s general question. The group, therefore, will create the issue that they will debate.

The group will also explore commonalities between the two books regarding that issue. In the process of their papers and of the debate, the group members will acknowledge areas where the authors’ views enhance each other as well as areas where they differ. They will also supplement the books with research to shed further light on the issue joined.

To facilitate this dialectic, this students’ research papers will be written in the style known as classical oration, which Aristotle used to explore as well as to persuade. Also, the concessions in their refutations will be written using the Toulmin method in order to explore the commonalities between the two positions.

Some of these authors hail from one or the other end of the political spectrum. For instance, Eric Liu hails from the political left. On the other hand, Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind may be understood as the story of Haidt’s slow conversion from liberalism to a more conservative outlook. I’ve overlooked these viewpoints because the overall material in each book seeks to transcend the sad, one-dimensional thinking that seeks to locate everyone’s opinions on a narrow political spectrum.

All groups will be formed out of people in the same section of our course. Only one group may explore a given broad question. Because there are more group topics than we have students to fill the groups, I will eliminate the least popular groups in each class. 

Here are the nine broad questions as well as the two books assigned to each question:

How can organizations transform themselves?

  • Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance (2011) by Howard J. Ross
  • The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups (2018) by Daniel Coyle

Considering our culture, what practices should programmers adopt to create good software and artificial intelligence?

  • Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World (2019) by Clive Thompson
  • You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It's Making the World a Weirder Place (2019) by Janelle Shale

How can citizens change our civic institutions?

  • A More Perfect Constitution: Why the Constitution Must Be Revised: Ideas to Inspire a New Generation (2007) by Larry J. Sabato
  • You're More Powerful than You Think: A Citizen's Guide to Making Change Happen (2017) by Eric Lu

What framework best accounts for our political divisions, and how can we use that framework to understand and overcome those divisions?

How can we fix K-12 schools?

What should college be?

  • In Defense of a Liberal Education (2015) by Fareed Zakaria
  • College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students (2013) by Jeffrey J. Selingo

What accounts for our bias against others, and what can we do about it?

How can psychology help people understand themselves, understand others, and change what they don’t like about themselves?

How can businesses change their industries?

  • Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries (2019) by Safi Bahcall
  • Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (2019) by David Epstein

Here are the steps we’ll take in this project:

Step 1: Check over the eighteen books’ Amazon pages to learn something about the books. We’ll have a mini-lesson on how to learn about a book through its Amazon page.

Step 2: Complete a survey to apply for your first, second, third, and fourth choices of book groups. In this survey, you’ll describe what you like about the books and the topic; what background you have that makes you interested in them; and what motivation, plans, and expertise that would make you an energetic, supportive, and resourceful group member.

Step 3: Once I let you know what group you’re in, order your copies of the two books as soon as possible. As you’ll learn on our Amazon page mini-lesson, you can often get a used hard copy for a fraction of what you’d pay for a new hard copy or a Kindle version, but you often have to put up with longer shipping times. So order by the assignment’s order deadline.

Step 4: Follow the schedule for reading books, participating in your group’s forum on Canvas, and participating in your group’s in-class book club meetings.

Step 5: While your group is reading the second book, participate in activities to help you compare and contrast the two books. This will lead to a synthesis of the two works as well as a sharpening of the differences between the books’ viewpoint concerning a common topic. Those differences need not amount to diametrically opposite positions.

Step 6: Pair up, formulate your pair’s initial thesis and research the question.

Step 7: Debate your question in class.

You also have the option to research how the coronavirus or COVID-19 impacts your chosen field. For college, for instance, the question might be "Under what circumstances should colleges hold classes in the fall?". For civics, for another instance, the question might be, "What form of government is most conducive to protecting its citizens from a pandemic such as the coronavirus?"

For additional assignment information, please contact your instructor.