The new reader has a lot going for it that the old reader did not ---- most importantly, two intro chapters that lay out the writing process and the argument process. The readings themselves, are, of course, a mixed bag.
But first --- have any of you read Edward T Hall, "The Arab World"? I am suspicious. It is an interesting comparison of how "Arabs" and "Westerners" think of their bodies and use public space, but ... something about how it is written makes me think that my students would all read it and go, oh, how weird the Arabs are and we are totally justified in killing them.
Actually, quite a lot of the articles in the last reader reinforced my students' worst assumptions rather than making them question them, and I hate having to really push against that myself. This is why I like having a range of arguments on a very focused topic. The last reader, for example, had a lone article about why unions suck and libertarianism is good without any hey-unions-are-good counterargument articles. This one annoys me because it has a short piece about teen mothers that argues how useless it is to try to educate impulsive young people about contraceptives and no article about why contraceptives and sex ed are good to pair it against. And one "suggested writing" prompt elsewhere that asks students to make an argument against abortion. Hey, editorial committee: fuck you!
While it might not be great on the pro-choice angle, it has surprisingly liberal readings about the wars we have going on in the Middle East, terrorism, Abu Ghraib scandal, etc. A lot of which are so clearly holding a left position that I don't really feel comfortable teaching them. Like I said, if I had a chapter labeled "arguments about the Iraq/Afghanistan/etc. war here" and I could teach students to pick apart a range of analyses and prescriptions for the future, I'd be happier.
Instead, the chapters are loosely grouped by "disciplines," but not really. For example, most of the readings in the "society and world culture" chapter are not sociology or anthropology, but, once again, personal memoirs. Damn you editorial committees! Annie Dillard is, indeed, a great writer, but she does not ever make an explicit thesis or use any textual evidence ---- she is a subtle and complex model and not at all a model of good social science writing. And in all honesty, a nice clear social science article with a hypothesis and methods section is soooo much easier for inexperienced students to analyze for structure and argument. So once again I will be trying to teach academic essays when the models in the book are largely people walking around in the forest and thinking about things and then writing about it, which my students all think they can already do and then don't understand why they are not allowed to just ramble about whatever friggin crosses their mind at any moment. Argh.
Luckily there are more articles that I can point to as having a thesis and making an argument than there were in the last one. But I am still kinda stumped on how to do "sequences," if not my topic approach. Was no one else taught to teach essay sequences? Am I doing something wrong and backward? Do you just assign 10 or so completely unrelated essays and have students make up arguments in response to one or none of them? (This is not what we actually do when we write in the disciplines, I will point out.)
I also notice that the questions/prompts/writing suggestions at the end of the articles and chapters mostly ask students to respond to one text at most or none at all, which confuses me. Especially when the prompt asks for a full-on official essay of three or four pages "analyzing" a reading that was itself only two pages. How are they supposed to keep that up for so long, I wonder. It's not like it's a Shakespearean sonnet; it's an NYT article on cyberbullying. I mean, there's not that much there really to close read! A lot of the other prompts ask students to read and respond to one text or maybe at most compare and contrast a couple. Which I guess means you can assign whatever readings you want and then have students pick one to analyze for that "sequence," but then I don't see how it is a sequence. And it doesn't help them practice the idea of joining an academic conversation.
I mean, you're studying Bleak House or American dating practices or public protests in Cairo or whatever, the first thing you do is go read what a whole bunch of other experts say about your topic. Then you synthesize these all together, explain how you agree or disagree with these arguments, and present your own take on the issue, which may involve collecting data, or may involve thinking about something really hard and coming up with a new interpretation. You don't usually read some lit crit on Dickens and then a bunch of content analysis about The Bachelor and stats on American teenagers and an ethnography of Egyptian protest movements --- or if you do, you're making some really complex arguments to justify tying them all together. And I imagine some really heavy-duty theory too. So why don't we have comp anthologies built up this way?
I suppose that by combing back through all these chapters once again I can get some more focused topics, but then I am confused about what the students should be doing with the articles. So it would be more like that lit article on how Dickens uses the conventions of melodrama, a history bit about the Irish Famine, The Communist Manifesto, and an overview of how Darwin's discoveries prompted a crisis in late-Victorian religious thinking. So, ok: we have a more focused time and place for our articles, but they are all from wildly divergent disciplines and don't really talk "to" each other in any direct way. (I think my students are not the strongest academically and need a lot of guidance to make obvious connections like "The Internet: Good or Bad" with "Why Facebook is Beneficial.") I don't think they could do much with my imaginary articles. Unless there is some way to structure an essay prompt that could get them there? Do you have the magic answer?
I can see pairings in the essays but nothing in terms of larger "clusters" that get at the same topic and argument areas. And I don't want to only teach comparison-contrast level essays. Stumped stumped stumped. I will continue to ponder this, and hope that my comp orientation will somehow resolve how I should structure essay sequences and prompts. I would rather knock this all out now than later, but, eh.