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PWR 1RDA: Act Your Age: The Rhetoric of Childhood, Adulthood, and Beyond

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Catalog Number: PWR 1RDA

Instructor: Matthew Redmond

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


Childhood. Adolescence. Adulthood. Old age. We organize our lives around such categories, often treating each one as a biological imperative, a fact of life. But these facts are actually social constructs that shift across cultures, historical periods, and disciplinary contexts. Consider how differently childhood in this country must have felt three hundred years ago, when children were regarded as little adults; or what it means that the legal age to drink, marry, or run for office varies widely around the world today. Once we recognize the profoundly contingent nature of age as we know it, countless aspects of life that we take for granted become replete with potential discoveries.

In this course, students will analyze the many ways that we use language to create, maintain, and even gatekeep categories of age—but also to subvert and transform them. In our classroom conversations and research projects, I welcome every imaginable topic and perspective related to our rhetorical encounters with the concept of age. You could explore the representation of youth in shows like Stranger Things or songs like Taylor Swift’s “22”; the meaning of millennials’ anxious fascination with “adulting”; the self-fashioning of Generation Z through platforms like TikTok; or the rhetoric of experts like biologist Dr. David Sinclair, whose book Lifespan (2019) forecasts the end of aging itself. Through classroom discussion, exercises, and interconnected essay assignments, we will explore the power that language affords all of us to define the unfolding of our lives. 

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis 

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) You will choose one textual artifact (an episode of your favorite show, a magazine article, a podcast, or a newspaper op-ed, among many other options) and perform a rhetorical analysis of its treatment of age. This assignment will enable you to discover a topic or guiding question to be carried forward into subsequent assignments—though you are welcome to pivot toward a different artifact and topic later if you wish to do so. Pick anything that excites you! The goal here is to understand how your artifact uses rhetoric to influence our thoughts and feelings about age.

Texts in Conversation 

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) You will gather research materials based on a theme or question that interests you—perhaps one that emerged from your Rhetorical Analysis. In assembling your own personal bibliography, you will discover a network of facts and theories that represent contemporary thinking on your topic. Your objective is to represent that network as clearly and expressively as possible, paying close attention to where positions differ and what direction the conversation has taken over time. In so doing, you will develop a background for your final major assignment, the Research-Based Argument.

Research-Based Argument 

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) Using resources and insights collected during the Texts in Conversation assignment, you will write an argumentative essay on your age-related topic. This Research-Based Argument represents the culmination of your work throughout the quarter and should bring forward a nuanced argument that participates fully in the conversation from your TiC assignment.