Thursday, October 8, 2009

comments on writing essays in this course

Today we started class by talking about Robin and Alice's comments on reading your first essays - this one on the question, "what is education?"

Here's a summary of the big points:
  •  Philsophy is a mode or approach to inquiry.  In this way, you base your arguments on the words of others as evidence for your big ideas.  This means you need to use citations to reference the important ideas of others upon which you have formed your perspective (in agreement, in constrast, etc.).  But in the same way, you must use the words of others as evidence, rather than as a crutch to make your argument for you.  How does a particular quote help you make your point?  Reemphasize your point after you have cited others' text, reminding your reader why the quote has meaning for your argument.
  • Think about how you attach metaphorical characteristics to the idea of "education."  Is education a thing that people give other people?  Is it itself an actor, where education does something to someone?  Is it a process by which people accomplish other things?  Be intentional in your language in what characteristics you embed in your idea of "education" through the simple description of the idea.
  • Many folks started their essays with definitions from others.  This is a good mechanism to help you start writing.  But perhaps consider this a "pre-writing" step -- looking up definitions is a way to get the writing juices flowing, but it's a kind of low-key way to open your essay.  Consider starting with your story to start with.  What is an example from your experiences that you think exemplifies (or contrasts vehemently) your perspective on education?
  • It's nice that so many people think that everyone should be educated, irrespective of race, class, or gender.  But that perspective has consequences on the role and responsibility education has (look, education as an actor) in communities, as a social process.  If everyone should be educated, what does that mean for how we think education should be funded? or how curricula should be decided? (note, passive voice!) or how learning should be assessed?  (and by whom?)
  • Beware the use of the passive voice.  While in technical writing, we learn to write in the passive voice to keep our writing "objective," critics (including your instructors) have argued this simply hides responsibility for action.  In other words, simply saying a task "is done" does not remove the fact that someone did the task.
Think about these in the context of your second essay, which will be focused on "what is engineering?"  See my next post for "banned phrases."
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