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PWR 1NK: Rhetorics of Childhood

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Photo credit: Robert Collins

Catalog Number: PWR 1NK

Instructor: Nora Kassner

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


"Childhood lies at the very heart of who we are and who we become” –Fred Rogers[1]

In America, Black children don’t get to be children” –Stacey Patton[2] 

What does it mean to be a child? What people, and what behaviors, are considered childlike? How does the way we talk about children—and about childhood—influence our lives? Our politics? Our world?

In this class, we will explore the ways that people write and speak about childhood, and how these rhetorics of childhood shape our world. Through a set of common readings, we will begin by encountering rhetorics of childhood that appear in psychology, medicine, social media, and activism. We will explore how the language we use to describe childhood impacts and is impacted by ideas about race, gender, class, sexuality, (dis)ability, and nationality. In your individual writing assignments, you will take a deep dive into your own childhood, exploring how messages you received as a child have shaped your own sense of identity and the world you grew up in. Through this individual exploration, you will also strengthen your skills in conducting research, analyzing texts, drafting, editing your work, and presenting your ideas.

Examples of research topics

For this course, you will engage in an in-depth research project spanning several weeks. You will be encouraged to choose a topic that relates to your life, or to pressing issues in your community. You might choose to explore anything from how politicians depict children as “innocent” and “in need of protection” in order to justify restricting their access to social media, to the impact of race and colonialism in depictions of magical children in fiction. You could examine debates about trans youth participation in sports, how language describing children has shifted in the wake of education reforms in Hong Kong, or a brilliant idea all your own!

PWR 1 Assignment Sequence                                                                              

Rhetorical Analysis 

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages):  You will choose a text, image, song, or video that deploys an image of children or childhood. Although you have flexibility to choose anything you wish, I will encourage you to choose something that was influential to your own childhood. Closely examining the text (etc.) that you have chosen, you will analyze its rhetorical strategies. How does the author depict children/childhood? What language or imagery does the author use? How do the authors’ language choices construct an argument about childhood and about our world? What clues do we have about the context or audience of this text, and how do context and audience shape the author’s argument?

Texts in Conversation 

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages): In this assignment, you will develop the theme you explored in your Rhetorical Analysis into the start of a broader research project. You will investigate how a variety of different authors have weighed in on this topic, and you will identify an opening for your own unique voice to add to the conversation.

Research-Based Argument 

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages):  Your RBA is the final product of this course where your voice enters into the conversation. Building on and expanding the work you began in the Texts in Conversation (TiC) assignment, you will produce your own complex, provocative argument. You will use both the existing scholarship you examined in your TiC as well as analyses of non-scholarly sources to teach us about the relationship between the language of childhood and the world we live in.


[1] Fred Rogers, n.d., via

[2] Stacey Patton, “In America, Black Children Don’t Get to Be Children,” Washington Post (November 26, 2014).