Plan for the Day
- Check Syllabus’s Attendance Section
- Wrap-up on Winner if needed (January 22nd)
- Writing and Reflecting: Discussion on writing as thinking
- Discuss Technology and Yourself, a Reflective Essay Draft
DUE next week: Monday, 2/03
Winner’s Great Observation
Let’s discuss the validity of Winner’s argument that we let technology control us because we’re amenable to hierarchy…we just pick and choose which we’re comfortable with and which we’re not. Great observation:
“In our times people are often willing to make drastic changes in the way they live to accomodate technological innovation while at the same time resisting similar kinds of changes justified on political grounds” (p. 39).
- What do you think? If we assume Winner is addressing freedom–after all, he just got finished discussing hierachy and authoritarianism–what technologies do we accept that, in effect, reduce our freedoms?
- What does he mean by the statement that we resist similar changes on political grounds?
- If no technology can exist without being compatible with “the system,” what, then, is THE system?
Writing and Reflecting
Many professors try to ignore the artificiality of the classroom and ask students to write for an audience other than them. It’s futile to think that students have anyone other than the professor (and his or her essay guidelines) in mind when writing. I’ll go round for round with anyone who thinks otherwise (that statement is for those out there beyond this class who still pretend that their students actually conceive of an audience other than the professor for class assignments). Therefore, we’re not going to pretend you’re writing for any other reason than to get a grade. However, the discussion will help you beyond this classroom.
Audience and Purpose
Don’t let anyone tell you any differently: The two most important considerations for any communication situation are Audience and Purpose. Yes, “purpose” assumes context. In order for your writing to be effective, you must communicate in the appropriate way to the intended audience (or audiences—primary, secondary, tertiary). You must have an intended audience (but know that you could have multiple audiences). You must also realize a purpose for writing: why are you communicating? That assumes a goal. The most well-crafted prose that is aimed at an inappropriate audience and with an unclear purpose is ineffective communication.
Writing as Thinking
Writing is a map of one’s thinking. As you write, you’re composing more than just prose—words on a page. You’re also refining your thinking about a topic. I’ve been studying the composing process for quite some time (my own and students’ processes). This activity and the others are not the end-all-be-all of writing instruction. A goal for these Writing Intensive courses is to incorporate writing and reflection on writing throughout a student’s college career. I’ll give you a little background about how I developed my approach to writing and teaching writing.
Although it’s important to have grammatically correct writing, we’re not going to focus on that in these discussions. We’re going to talk about style and content, which can be stifled by an assumption that writing is about correctness. I’ll say it once or twice this semester: No one fetishizes grammatically correct sentences. People write to convey ideas, support their ideas, and persuade others about their ideas. Of course, they also write to entertain, inspire, instruct, and communicate, but we’ll focus on the essay in this class, and that genre is about making sound, logical arguments that have proof to back them up.
Before we get too far along, let’s look at the requirements for your first essay: Technology and yourself, a reflective essay.
Focus on Adding Proof to the Pudding
Below is an excerpt from Winner (p. 25). We’re going to examine this to determine how we can add proof to the assertions he’s made. Remember, there are all kinds of writing genres. There’s no single format (or formula) for the essay genre, but proof, evidence, and sound arguments are vital to its effectiveness.
To recognize the political dimensions in the shapes of technology does not require that we look for conscious conspiracies or malicious intentions. The organized movement of handicapped people in the United States during the 1970s pointed out the countless ways in which machines, instruments, and structures of common use—buses, building, sidewalks, plumbing fixtures, and so forth—made it impossible for many handicapped persons to move freely about, a condition that systematically excluded them from public life. It is safe to say that designs unsuited for the handicapped arose more from long-standing neglect than from anyone’s active intention. But once the issue was brought to public attention, it became evident that justice required a remedy. A whole range of artifacts have been redesigned and rebuilt to accommodate this minority. (Winner, p. 25)
The above passage is an example of good writing. As part of a larger work (a book) it fits nicely into Winner’s discussion for both the 2nd chapter and the entire book. It would not be consider “complete” for a 7-10 page essay. Why?
*For starters, it doesn’t offer much proof. It assumes the audience understands the social situation regarding handicapped individuals in pre-Americans with Disabilities Act eras. Winner doesn’t need to go into detail because he assumes his audience understands the topic. You can get away with that in a book because you have to pick and choose what to go into great detail about and, generally, it’s assumed your audience is familiar with the ideas and examples you could use. Naturally, you’re going to shortchange some things over others in any writing. The goal is to pick and choose wisely to have more effective writing.
*Essays that you write require proof, and you want to strive to have no loose ends. I hesitate to say “assume I know nothing about the topic” because that’s not accurate (although it will be for some topics). In your essays, you should focus on supporting all you claims with good examples. Choose your topics wisely, and aim for explaining a smaller topic in greater detail than trying to cover a broader topic in less detail.
*Aim for reader-based prose: that’s a writing style where you take the reader through your discussion to your conclusions, and you don’t make the reader “jump” to your conclusions without a proper bridge.
Revisions for an Essay
Let’s try to find out ways to revise this for an essay that requires proof. Don’t get bogged down on correctness concerns (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.); instead, think about ideas that will support Winner’s assertion. Consider the above paragraph to be a shell, and evidence is going to fill that shell.
The following Outline might help visualize Winner’s structure and main points:
I. Topic sentence: “To recognize the political dimensions in the shapes of technology does not require that we look for conscious conspiracies or malicious intentions.”
[The rest of this paragraph discusses handicapped issues. Based on Winner’s ideas, what are the potential forces that shape technology? List the forces, and give examples that prove those forces may shape technology.]
II. Activism of Handicapped people in the US in the 1970s
- Technologies ignore the conditions people with disabilities face/encounter
- Buildings aren’t constructed to accommodate people with disabilities
- The built environment prohibits citizens with disabilities from more fully participating in society
[We can all probably agree with the above statement, but we need proof. In what ways are people with disabilities politically active—big ‘P’ Politics—and how are people with disabilities affected by the built environment?]
III. The conditions people with disabilities face is ignored by those without disabilities
[How so? Theoretically why? Think socially. Remember, Winner wrote this in the mid-1980s, so you probably will have to guess what changes have occurred or reflect upon old buildings and technologies that you’re familiar with.]
IV. Once the exclusion of people with disabilities was brought to the attention of the mainstream, the public was sensitive and willing to remedy the situation.
[How so? What examples prove the above statement?]
V. Artifacts have been designed to accommodate people with disabilities by making social participation easier.
[What are these artifacts? Are they simply programmed or engineered, or are there values embodied in these artifacts?]
I’m fully aware that some of the above points can be (ful)filled with the same evidence.
Disclaimer: The above outline looks like a 5-paragraph essay format. There are some serious reservations to the 5-paragraph essay, and, time permitting, we’ll discuss those (* See discussion below). For our purposes, though, you should focus on the fact that providing sound reasoning for assertions is imperative for any essay you write.
Group work on Filling in the Shell
As I mentioned, the above excerpt from Winner is a shell. There are 6 rows, but there are probably only 5 rows with students, so let’s have each row take a roman numeral . Discuss the entire paragraph but come up with support for your group’s particular roman numeral.
Row 1 = I
Row 2 = II
Row 3 = III
Row 4 = IV
Row 5 = V
All of you need to have some kind of printed draft of your essay today. You will all be “called on” in a sense because, without a draft, you’ll lose In-class participation points. We’ll do peer reviews, but we’re going to discuss the drafts and help provide ideas for how to explain your point of view. Professors often lie to students and tell them that personal feelings and opinions can’t be wrong (see Postmodernism discussion at the bottom of the page); unfortunately, they can be. In the context I’ve asked you to consider, if your feelings or opinions aren’t based on sound, logical proof, they’re wrong, or you’re not explaining why you reach the conclusions you reach. Aim for reader-based prose and not writer-based prose. The reader isn’t in your head with ALL the same assumptions you have, so you can’t expect they will “just get it.”
The Five-Paragraph Essay Controversy
I’ve already explained the gist of this, but I have a further disclaimer to provide more context about what is and is not effective writing. Remember, any communication that doesn’t adhere to audience expectations or has a clear purpose will most likely be ineffective, especially in professional contexts (this is a Technical/Professional Writing course). Consider this disclaimer alongside our discussions of technologies being neutral: The appropriateness of the five-paragraph essay depends on the context, and it’s a limited context in my opinion.
The five-paragraph essay (sometimes called the three-point-five paragraph essay) is a nearly ubiquitous model of for high school essays. Fortunately, it has fallen out of popularity in college composition courses because following a writing format has proven to be stifling to student expression. When asked to follow a format like the five-paragraph essay, students often focus on filling in the “necessary” slots instead of reflecting on what they want to communicate. Just as students are stifled by focusing too much on issues of correctness, formats for (or modes of) writing also stifle reflection and creativity because they constrain writers. Worrying about rules takes attention away from thinking about higher-order concerns: ideas, organization, audience, and purpose.
But isn’t a blank page just a stifling for students who don’t know where to begin? Yes. Five-paragraph essay outlines (or any outlines) can be helpful pre-writing as thinking, a place to organize one’s ideas to be more confident about one’s purpose. Personally, I outline any writing over five pages. Full disclosure: I think that contributes to my writing being longer than it should, but that’s also an editing issue…but this isn’t about me, so we’ll ignore that.
The above I, II, III, IV, and V points aren’t meant to be for an entire essay; instead, they’re instructions for an activity on adding proof, using evidence to support or just explain claims. The traditional five-paragraph essay has an Intro, Point 1, Point 2, Point 3, and a Conclusion. That type of structure is fine for some students who can benefit from some structure when they’re not sure how to begin. After all, what professor will allow the student to skip the assignment because he or she just didn’t know where to begin? I’m waiting…
In conclusion, the five-paragraph essay has some merits, but, for college-level writing, it is too stifling a format.