November 25, 2003

To: Robert Trapp

From: Richard J. Ellis

Re: Writing-Centered Designation for Colloquium: Patriotism (Politics 124)

This course examines the meaning of patriotism in the United States. Among the questions discussed are: What is the relationship between patriotism and nationalism? Is patriotism akin to racism? What does it mean to be an American (or un-American)? Is America exceptional? How do individuals handle conflicting loyalties and identities: Does God come before country? Does family? Does the world? What is the meaning of disloyalty and how do we define and punish traitors? How does the nation attempt to make patriotic citizens? What is the origin of, and what continues to animate, our patriotic rituals such as the flag salute and pledge of allegiance? What do these rituals mean to people?

During the course of the semester I have students do the following writing activities and assignments.

(1) I have students do about 3-5 in-class writing assignments of about 10-20 minutes each. The following is an example:

Summarize the facts of the Russo case in as much detail as you can. If you agree with what the court decided explain why you think the court did the right thing. If you think the case was wrongly decided explain how the result and/or reasoning was flawed.

I often follow an in-class writing assignment like the one above by asking students to pair up and read each other's writing and discuss the differences in the way they approached the subject matter. In-class writing of this sort is generally used as a way to begin class discussion as well as a way of monitoring reading comprehension. It allows students to collect their thoughts before beginning discussion.

(2) I typically assign between about 3-4 short response papers that range in length from 300 to 700 words. The following are examples of this sort of writing:

“The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Newdow case. Imagine that you are a justice of the Supreme Court. What would be your ruling? And on what grounds would you justify that ruling? Write a 500 word opinion explaining your ruling. The paper should be typed and double-spaced. Be sure to include a word count at the top of the page."

As with the in-class writing I generally use response papers as a way to begin small group work and/or class discussion. I find that response papers help students read the material more closely and think through the issues involved in a more focused way. Here writing is used as a means of helping students think through their views on the material.

(3) I assign three longer papers that are designed to stimulate creative thinking and help me to evaluate their performance in the class. For me, the key to good writing is asking good questions. Ask a boring question and you'll get boring writing. I also want students to do a variety of different kinds of writing. I have attached the three paper assignments I used this semester. The first assignment asked them to write three 600 word Congressional testimonies on flag burning (see the attached assignment). A draft went through a peer response process (see the attached form I used) and I conferenced individually with each of the students on the day after the draft had been read by peers. The second paper assignment (see attached) asked them to write a 2500 to 3000 word dialogue paper between a number of authors we had read on the subject of patriotism and cosmopolitanism. This gave students an opportunity to write in a different genre, one that few if any of them had tried before. This paper, like the first, went through a peer response process (see attached form) and again I conferenced individual with each of the students on their drafts. The final paper was a 3000-4500 word research paper that asks students to research a patriotic ritual, day of commemoration, memorial or monument. We are in the midst of this assignment but so far I have meant individually with each student once to discuss the formulation of their topic. Each of these three writing assignments is designed to stretch students beyond the conventional "compare and contrast" writing assignments they so often get (and which so often produces horrid writing).

(4) Because this is a 100 level course (limited to freshmen and sophomores) that is designed to meet the general education requirement (Analyzing Arguments, Reasons and Values) I do not spend time teaching the "discourse of the discipline" (there isn't a single discourse in any event), though the last paper does help them learn the conventions of the research paper. The course, though it is housed in the Politics department, is explicitly interdisciplinary, ranging across law, politics, philosophy, and history.

(5) My other Politics colloquia (Politics 118, a colloquium on Privacy) is a writing-centered course, and the basic structure of Politics 124 is virtually identical to Politics 118. It would not make sense for me to have a writing-centered designation for Politics 118 but not for Politics 124.

(6) If writing-centered designation can be granted retroactively that would be wonderful--my writing this application was spurred in large part by students in my current term=s class who couldn't understand why a course in which there is so much attention to writing is not writing-centered. If that is possible, my students will undoubtedly be disappointed, but my main interest is in getting the designation into the catalog for the future offerings, including for this spring semester (I am offering two sections of the course this spring).

I hope the material I have provided will allow you to determine whether this course should be designated as writing-centered.

Your name ___________________

Name of the author of the paper _________________

Politics 124 Fall 2003


Peer Response for Paper 1

Which is the strongest of the testimonies that you read? What makes that testimony persuasive?

What could the author do that would make that testimony even more persuasive? Be specific in your suggestions.

Which is the weaker of the testimonies that you read? What makes that testimony less persuasive? Point to specific passages of the testimony that you do not find compelling. What could the author do to improve this testimony and make it more persuasive? Again it is important to be specific in your suggestions.

Does the paper present more than one side of the issue? Asked a different way, do the testimonies present different perspectives and arguments on the issue? Is there a perspective missing from the testimonies? What would this missing perspective add to the paper?

Does the granddaughter of the person at the 1923 Flag Conference provide testimony that sounds like the testimony of someone whose grandfather and grandmother attended that conference? Does the author use her testimony to echo (or perhaps to reject) concerns or fears or values that were expressed at that conference? Are those connections to the flag conference communicated through citations to the text as well as through the themes and arguments expressed? Are there places where these connections to the flag conference could be improved. Be specific in your answer.

Does the testimony provide any information about who the people testifying are? Is there a believable connection between who these people are and what they say? Are there places where what they say seems inconsistent with who they are supposed to be?

Are there adequate citations to the readings? Indicate specific paragraphs or passages where the author needs to add citations.

If you were the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee what is the one question you would most like to see the chair address to those giving the testimony. What would you expect this question to reveal about the testimony that is not revealed already in the testimony? How would you think the person(s) testifying would or should respond to that question?

Identify one thing that the author did in the testimonies that you wish you had emulated in your own testimonies. Be specific about what they did and about what you did not do.

If the author could only do two things to improve this paper, what two things would you suggest? Which of the two should the author make the first priority in revision, and why is that the most important thing to do to improve this paper? As always, be specific.

Your name ___________________

Name of the author of the paper _________________

Politics 124 Fall 2003


Peer Response for Paper 2

In one sentence, explain what this dialogue is about.

Does the setting contribute to the content and coherence of the dialogue? If so, explain how the setting works to advance the dialogue. If not, suggest ways the setting might be made an integral component of the dialogue.

Does the dialogue take up too many different themes or arguments? Would the dialogue be better if it was focused on fewer topics and explored those in greater depth? If so, indicate what (if anything) should be cut and what should be explored more fully.

Identify places in the dialogue where the participants seem out of character; that is, identify places where they express views that are not in keeping or are even inconsistent with the views they express in the texts? Be specific.

Are there adequate citations to the readings? Indicate at least five specific places where the author could usefully add citations.

Is there someone in the dialogue who seems to come off second best in the argument? How might the arguments of this person be made more persuasive or compelling? That is, what might the loser say to mount a more powerful counterargument?

Identify one thing that the author did in this dialogue that you wish you had done in your dialogue.

If the author could only do two things to improve this dialogue, what two things would you suggest? Which of the two should the author make the first priority in revision, and why is that the most important thing to do to improve this paper?

Willamette University

Writing Center

900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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