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EH 102 H Seminar in Critical Thinking and Writing
Fall 2016
MWF 12:30-1:30
Humanities Center 319



This course is designed to help you hone your college critical thinking and writing skills. To achieve that goal, you will complete assignments that require you to think and communicate in ways that your professors in all disciplines will expect of you. You may have to leave behind some familiar structures--the issues raised by your classes will not fit neatly into five paragraphs or three main points. Nor will your writing assignments on the college level often correspond to the traditional models of narration, description, or comparison-and-contrast. What you will find on the college level is that the structure of a piece of writing must grow out of the subject matter, and its tone and approach must take into consideration the needs and interests of both the writer and the reader.

Rather than focusing simply on the product of writing, this course focuses equally on the process. The product, of course, is important, and it will be graded as the tangible evidence of the process. But at the outset you should begin training yourself to ask different questions about writing than, perhaps, you have asked before. Instead of asking "I wonder what my professor wants?" you might ask "What is my professor trying to find out about me by making this assignment?" Instead of asking "How long does this essay have to be?" you might ask "Have I gathered enough evidence to convince a skeptical audience?" Instead of asking "Is it OK to use first-person pronouns?" you might ask whether your professor wants to know what the facts are or what you believe the facts mean.

To put it simply, this course will teach you how to make sure that everything you write answers three basic questions that readers always have: "Is the information valid?" "Who cares about this topic?" and "What's the point?" Answering the first question ensures that your writing will have enough substance. Answering the second and third ensures that your writing will have purpose and direction.

Course Objectives

All sections of EH 102 Seminar in Critical Thinking and Writing have the following learning goals: in completing the writing assignments successfully, students in EH 102 will
  • Demonstrate sound logic, awareness of complex issues, and connections between specific details and the paperís overall argument
  • Produce a clear thesis, unified and coherent paragraphs, appropriate transitions between paragraphs, and an organized structure
  • Produce paragraphs with clear topic sentences, well-chosen examples, and supporting details
  • Use appropriate quotations, well-integrated into sentences, and properly cited in MLA style
  • Revise, edit, and proofread for varied sentence structure, careful diction, standard grammar and punctuation, and authorial voice and audience
As the means for fulfilling its general goals outlined above, this section of EH 102 focuses on the theory and practice of argument. Your reading and writing assignments are designed to enable you to complete the following specific course objectives:
  • To comprehend and evaluate others' arguments by becoming a more critical reader
  • To practice academic writing as the act of joining an ongoing conversation
  • To identify the basic elements of argument: claims, types of support, and warrants
  • To become more adept and intentional in using inductive and deductive reasoning
  • To learn to evaluate evidence for its quality, and sources for their legitimacy
  • To learn to conduct and present college-level research

Course Policies

Requirements for Papers

You must submit writing assignments on time. Written assignments are to be posted before the beginning of class on the due date to the appropriate place on the class Moodle site. These documents must be in the form of a Microsoft Word file with the suffix of .doc or .docx. I will not accept late work unless I have given you prior permission to submit it late. That is, work submitted late without permission will earn zero points. I am quite willing to make allowances for personal catastrophes, but my willingness depends on your sense of responsibility in informing me about your situation.

Your writing assignments must conform to MLA format standards dictated in your writing handbook. In addition, please see my specific manuscript requirements by following this link. It may help you to see your early drafts as rehearsals and your final draft as your public performance, keeping in mind that audiences have higher expectations for performances than for rehearsals. Remember, too, that everyone has a lousy performance from time to time, but that the more someone practices, the better chance of a better performance.

Honor Code: Posting your written assignments to Moodle serves as a virtual signature indicating that you understand and comply with the Honor Code.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the most serious offence against academic honesty. As such, it has the most severe penalties. Put quite simply, plagiarism is the use of someone else's words or ideas without giving him or her credit. Anytime you quote directly or indirectly from a source, or if you paraphrase or summarize material from a source, you must document that act of borrowing. The papers you write for this or any class at Birmingham-Southern are documents by which your professors will measure your ability to collect and analyze data, understand concepts, and articulate ideas. Presenting another person's work as your own is dishonest and fraudulent. Any act of plagiarism will result in a failing grade for the assignment without possibility of revision. Intentional acts of plagiarism--knowingly using someone else's work and passing it off as your own--will result in a failing grade for the course. All acts of intentional plagiarism will be referred to the Honor Council.

Class Attendance: Because the classroom experience is central to this course, you must attend class, and you must be an active participant in class activities. There is no substitute for listening to what I have to say on general issues of critical thinking and writing or on specific writing assignments. There is also no substitute for participation in group exercises or class discussion. Effective writing requires a writer to take readers into consideration: it is not something that can be done in a vacuum. Nevertheless, recognizing that you have a complex life, I allow you two sick days and two personal days for the term. Any absences beyond those four will cost you a letter grade reduction per day absent on your final course grade. You will not be allowed to make up missed work unless you get permission from me ahead of time or unless I have been contacted by Health Services or your academic advisor about your extended illness.

Classroom Behavior: respect your classmates and the process of learning by silencing your cell phone during class and by not bringing food into the classroom. You may bring something to drink if it is spill-proof. The principle to follow in all cases is to keep distractions to a minimum so that the group can concentrate on the analysis and discussion of the text.

Communicating with your Professor: I expect you to communicate with me in real time whenever possible during my office hours. Voice mail and e-mail do not constitute personal contact with me, though if you must leave a message I prefer that you use e-mail. In any case, such messages are not valid excuses for missed exams or assignment due dates or classes. If you must miss class for official College activities, you must make any arrangements with me ahead of time to accommodate your needs. In the case of a medical emergency that affects your work in this course, if I cannot be reached directly, someone should contact the Humanities Secretary on your behalf and she will relay your message as soon as possible.

Course Texts

Graff and Birkenstein, They Say / I Say (2nd edition)
Hacker, A Writer's Reference (8th edition)

Course Grade

This is a critical thinking and writing course; therefore, your grades are based on the quality of your written assignments, which reflect the quality of your critical thinking. The first two writing assignments in this course will be related to the topic of liberal arts and the way Birmingham-Southern College embodies the liberal arts tradition. The third paper will analyze the argumentative techniques used by a full-page advertisement that you choose. Each of these papers will give you practice in using the "They Say / I Say" approach to argumentation and will prepare you for your documented paper, which will be longer and more complex, and which will require you to use facts and opinions gathered through research. The documented research paper will focus on the product promoted by your chosen full-page ad and will argue that there are more substantial reasons either to purchase or not to purchase the product being advertised. Below is a list of assignments and the percentage of the final grade that each is worth.
Paper 1: a personal statement on your choice of college 10%
Paper 2: an argument for the most impressive top liberal arts college 15%
Paper 3: an analysis of the argument in a full-page advertisement 15%
Paper 4: a documented argumentative research paper on an advertised product 45%
Final Exam: terms and techniques of argument 15%


Course Schedule

Reading assignments are listed below on the days we will be discussing them in class. Take notes on the readings and come to class prepared to discuss the texts and the issues they raise. Writing assignments and examinations are listed below in boldfaced type.

08/24 Introduction to the course
08/26 TS/IS "Preface" and "Introduction"; Discussion: Reflection on your choice of college

08/29 TS/IS chs. 1-3; Discussion: The Liberal Arts: a historical analysis
08/31 Discussion and Analysis: The Yale Report
09/02 Discussion and Analysis: the College's Mission Statement and the Explorations Curriculum

09/05 Labor Day -- no class
09/07 Discussion and Analysis: The Liberal Arts: an updated definition [First Paper due on Moodle]
09/09 Presentations: A survey of the best liberal arts colleges [post to Moodle forum due]

09/12 Discussion: A survey of the best liberal arts colleges
09/14 TS/IS chs. 4-7; Discussion: Entering the conversation about liberal arts
09/16 Discussion: Entering the conversation about liberal arts

09/19 Analysis of King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"
09/21 TS/IS chs. 8-10; Discussion: Graff, "Hidden Intellectualism" TS/IS pp. 198-205
09/23 Elements of Argument: Claims, Support, and Warrants [Second Paper due on Moodle]

09/26 Elements of Argument: Claims of Fact, Value, and Policy [post full-page ad to Moodle]
09/28 Elements of Argument: Support by Evidence and Appeals to Needs and Values
09/30 Elements of Argument: Warrants of Authority, Substance, and Motivation

10/03 AWR pp. 329-368: Library Workshop on Using and Evaluating Sources
10/05 Library Research and Informal Conferences
10/07 Fall Break -- no class

10/10 AWR pp. 353-412: documenting sources--MLA Style [Third Paper due on Moodle]
10/12 Library Research and Informal Conferences
10/14 Library Research and Informal Conferences

10/17 AWR pp. 353-412: creating a formal outline [Documented Paper proposal due on Moodle]
14/19 Library Research and Informal Conferences
10/21 Progress Reports on Research

10/24 Individual Formal Conferences [Annotated Bibliography due on Moodle]
10/26 Individual Formal Conferences
10/28 AWR pp. 353-412: drafting and revising

10/31
11/02
11/04

11/07 Discussion: Tannen, "Agonism in the Academy" TS/IS pp. 214-220 [Documented Paper outline due on Moodle]
11/09 Discussion: King, "I Have a Dream"
11/11 Discussion: Kennedy, Civil Rights Address

11/14 Individual Formal Conferences
11/16 Individual Formal Conferences
11/18 Individual Formal Conferences

11/21
11/23 Thanksgiving Break -- no class
11/25 Thanksgiving Break -- no class

11/28 Review of Elements of Argument for Final Exam
11/30 Debriefing on the Research and Writing Process [Documented Paper due on Moodle]

12/7 (Wednesday 1:00-4:00 p.m.) Final Examination



John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College, jtatter@bsc.edu