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PWR 1JPA: The Rhetoric of Liberal Arts Education

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Fall 2021: Not offered

Winter 2022: Not offered

Spring 2022: TTh 1:30PM-3:15PM; 3:30PM-5:15PM

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement

Is higher education primarily a pathway to a career, or is it designed for students to learn about themselves and the human experience? Is it possible for higher education to achieve both of these goals? This course engages with the spirited conversations and scholarly debates about the ideals of a liberal arts education and how these ideals connect with ancient and contemporary arguments about the value of the contemplative versus the active life.

We will consider readings that help us define the concept of liberal arts education and address how college should prepare its students for adult life. You will be encouraged to look at these models critically and to research topics suggested by these debates. By working with education theorists as wide-ranging as Diane Ravitch, Ken Robinson, William Deresiewicz, and Stanley Fish, we will frame the debate and set the stage for your own investigation. We will also explore images of the student as depicted in popular culture, in films such as The Social Network; Dead Poets Society; and perhaps even High School Musical 3.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1200-1500 words; 4-5 pages) This assignment asks that you look critically at a short reading that describes a vision of a liberal arts education: who is the writer addressing, what problems are at stake, and how does the author use language to present an argument and/or invite debate?

Texts in Conversation Essay

(1800-2400 words or 6-8 pages) Here, you begin to conduct research, analyzing arguments that illuminate your selected topic from different perspectives. For example, you could analyze not only how elite universities must compete for top applicants, but how their marketing implicitly takes sides in long- standing debates over the value of higher education. Or you could explore how research in cognitive psychology is sometimes at odds with education that operates largely on intuition, local culture, and unquestioned tradition.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words or 12-15 pages) With this essay, you continue your research by focusing on a central issue and taking a position on it. For example, you might examine how the economic downturn has affected the funding of public education. Or you could investigate how technical institutions address broader liberal arts education objectives.

Other Notes: This course offers several avenues for collaboration in creative scholarship and research. It also offers an opportunity for you to reflect on your learning, so that you might design research that deepens your understanding of topics you have explored or are exploring in your other courses.