Engl 2000 — Critical Inquiry

In order to fully participate in our society, we must be able to understand and evaluate the arguments of others, and argue for our own beliefs.  These skills are some of the most important learned while in college, and this course aims to aid you as you begin to develop them.

The focus of the course is critical thinking, with emphasis split between receptive (reading/listening) and active (writing) exercises. You will be expected to analyze arguments of others and to produce defensible arguments of their own, both in analytical summaries and in original argumentative essays. You will learn to judge the difference between good and bad arguments, as well as the distinction between significant and trivial positions on issues.

Satisfies G.E. area A3. Prerequisites: ENGL 1001, or 1002, or equivalent.

While there is a heavy written component, much of the course will foreground various rhetorical elements of argument such as claims, warrants, support and language. To explore these elements, we will be reading a number of interesting and thought-provoking texts, and then analyzing them to decide what the message is, which rhetorical elements are used, how they are used and if they are successful in supporting the claims through  the use of these elements. You will develop your own thoughts and ideas not only on the theme of the text, but how and why it is presented by the author/s. You will learn to critique an essay thoughtfully and knowledgeably, without prejudice or pre-conceived notions, making note of the methods of persuasion, analysis, evaluation, refutation, definition, comparison, synthesis and summary.

Because we face difficult times we must not only be able to think and judge, and argue, but also work together.  To that end, each of the three major assignments will include a collaborative component.

Course Objectives:

  • Developing critical reading practices to support research and writing
  • Understanding writing as a rhetorical practice, i.e., choosing effective strategies for addressing purpose, audience and context
  • Developing a repertoire of strategies for addressing a variety of specific rhetorical situations, i.e., different purposes, audiences, and contexts
  • Continuing practice of important elements of academic discourse, such as forming and critically investigating questions, using sources effectively and ethically, and writing effective summaries, analyses, and arguments
  • Increasing information literacy through practicing strategies for locating, selecting, and evaluating sources for inquiry
  • Developing effective research and revision processes, including collaboration and response, and using feedback to guide revision

This course is also designed to help realize three broader educational goals:

  • Engage you as active members of the CSU community
  • Engage you as active and interested learners
  • Develop your understanding of their positions as world citizens responding to significant global challenges

Required Material:

  • Articles, videos, and other materials linked from the syllabus and course calendar or on reserve in the library.
  • A writer’s guide that contains up-to-date information on MLA style. An online guide can be found at this link.

Required Work:

  1. Participation: For each class session, the student should make at least one thoughtful contribution to the class discussion, describing their response to the readings or other assignments, and offering some topics or questions we should explore. Keep in mind that contributions here also allow me to assess your mastery over the course content so try to anchor your comments closely to the course material. You need not reference all of the material for that week but should focus your discussion on salient points of interest.
  2. Reading journal/blog: You will maintain an ongoing  journal in which you reflect upon the skills, knowledge, and tools you are seeking and getting out of this course and reflect upon how the subjects covered in the texts relate to the circumstances of your own life. The key word is reflection; this is about thinking about the subject matter, not simply demonstrating that you did the reading or writing. Your journal is primarily a conversation with yourself about what the subject might have to do with the world you actually live in. Extra credit will be given to those who main their journal online, as a public blog. Each entry should be at least 3/4 typed pages, one hand-written page, or about 500 words.
  3. Three Essay Assignments: We will explore three issues that currently being debated across the country and in California particularly.  You will read/view the assign material for each issue, as a group work on researching it further, develop individual essays about each issue, and then make group presentations to the class.  Each essay must be about 4000 words.
  4. Final Group Project: Each group will choose one of the issues we have discussed, or argue convincingly for another issue, and create material to educate other students about the issue. These projects will be public, and so the audience is other CSU Stanislaus students, and depending on how the material is presented, college students more generally, or perhaps Californians more generally, or some other target group.

Optional Contract and Portfolio Grading

In this class, if you choose this option, I won’t assign letter or number grades to any of your work in order to calculate a grade. I believe that assigning that sort of quantitative value to your communication shifts our focus from its proper place: what you want to say and why you want to say it. Grades force us both to instead be always calculating what some small part of a paper is “worth,” and thinking about that grade, when in fact successful communication is the real reward for your efforts. Of course, in the end I must give you a grade. I feel that the most accurate assessment of your learning can only be achieved looking at it all together. A class, like a text, is more than the sum (and average) of its parts.

Your final grade in this course will be based on my evaluation of your written assignments, your work in class, and your work responding to your classmates. With effort (see below), anyone can pass the class. We will talk in class about what is considered exceptional and worthy of high grades, and what is considered excellent communication in the academic community at large. Remember, you control what grade you earn.

If you complete every assignment in a satisfactory manner—meaning it shows effort, and your participation is similarly strong, you will get a B. You cannot pass the class, let alone earn a B without completing EVERY assignment.

Though I do not grade individual assignments, be assured that if you are in danger of failing, you will know. I will also be happy at any time in the semester to talk about your work.

When I do finally assign a grade, I will be using the +/- grading option.

What do I mean by “effort?”

As I stated above, a passing grade depends on fulfilling all of the requirements with effort. There is, of course, no exact measurement of such a vague quality. I will, however, look for certain concrete, observable signs of notable effort, thinking, and involvement:

Engagement: In class you are ready to participate. This means that not only have you done the reading I assigned for each day, but you remember it and are prepared to discuss it. You have tried to figure out confusing passages, noted your own questions or reactions to the reading, and thought about what it all means. When writing is due, you have it ready on time.

Sophistication: Show that a complex idea or question drives your writing or comments. For instance, don’t just tell four obvious reasons why dishonesty is bad or free will is good. A sophisticated piece would delve into a question about honesty or free will, and therefore show the complexity of the chosen issue.

Movement: Show in your writing and from week to week a movement of thinking through or figuring out your thinking on a topic. Thus your work needs to have a line of thinking or a succession of points. It needs to go somewhere.

All Essays should receive basic copy-editing for grammar and mechanical errors. All assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day specified in the writing schedule. You cannot pass the class without submitting all assignments. Late assignments will be penalized, but it is always better to hand them in late than not at all. If you have to miss class on a due date, you are responsible for making sure I have the assignment anyway.

Be careful if you email me your work.  Make sure your name is on the document, and that the subject line says Engl 1001 — <name of assignment>

Our Classroom Community

We learn best in a supportive community. In order to ensure that our class works as a community, we will all follow the following guidelines:

  1. No cell phone interruptions. That means no cell phones ringing, no text messaging, no wandering out to answer a call during class, unless it is an emergency. I will expect some explanation of the latter. Enjoy being inaccessible for a space.
  2. Practice courtesy. We will be courteous to each other, even if we disagree very seriously with each other’s opinions or attitudes. Learning to work together in spite of disagreement is essential to your success in academic and professional life.
  3. Academic Integrity is the basis on which any academic community is founded. We will follow the policy set forth on the English Department website: http://web.csustan.edu/english/dept/plagiarism.html


Week 1:

2/16– Introduction to class. What communication skills do you need to practice? What issues are important to us right now?  Discussion Groups formed.

2/18– Journal introduced. Discussion of writing processes. First take on your own writing process–a detailed description.  Homework: Journal entry–steps 2 and 3 below. Then read the article mentioned below and follow the instructions..

  1. List your own ideas about important issues.
  2. List all the ways you might have an impact.
  3. Choose one or two issues from the list, and write in more detail about that/those.
  4. Link out to other sources of information that will help others understand and that support your claims.

Read “How America’s Universities Became Hedge Funds” and write a journal entry identifying the claims author Bob Samuels makes in that article. Then identify the evidence he offers to back up his claims.  This overview of Argument Structure — Three Models may help you analyze his argument.

Week 2

2/23–   We will do a group exercise based on this article and your initial analyses. Homework: do the research as determined in your group.

2/25– The state of higher education; what does your research show? What do you now think about Samuel’s argument and why?   Evaluating Sources: How do you know what to believe? Things to consider when evaluating print sources; Things to consider when evaluating web sources.  How do the sources you found measure up? Finally, you will draft a claim or question for your first essay. Homework: begin drafting your first essay, collect further research if needed.

Week 3

3/2 Furlough Day — You may find this guide to writing research papers helpful.

3/4 Essay 1 due. Detailed peer feedback in class

Homework: work on revisions, Final version due 3/9.

Week 4

3/9 Combining Knowledge: work in your group to put your ideas together.  What do you all think now about the state of higher education? Each group will make a short presentation to the rest of the class summarizing these ideas. Final version of Essay 1 due.

Homework: Read and watch

3/11  Furlough Day

Week 5

3/16  Discuss health care issues.  In each group, determine what kind of research would help you to better evaluate the various claims about health care.  Preliminary brainstorm/writing for Essay Two. Homework: Conduct your research.

3/18 Discuss research in class, brainstorm essay ideas.  Homework: collect further research if needed, and and outline your essay.

Week 6

3/23 Outline of Essay Two Due.  Feedback in class. Combining Knowledge: work in your group to put your ideas together.  What do you all think now about health care reform? Each group will make a short presentation to the rest of the class summarizing these ideas. Homework: based on discussion in class, revise outline and continue research as needed.

3/25  Argument structure exercise.  Continued group presentations as needed. Homework: Read and view the following

Week 7 — Midterm Check-ins; First version of Essay 2 due.

3/30 Furlough Day.

4/1 3/23 Check-ins

Week 8– 4/6, 4/8


Week 9

4/13 Civil rights: what do you know about the history of civil rights? What do you think about some of the current debates around civil rights, such as gay marriage rights? Discuss in groups what information you’d need to argue a claim convincingly. Homework: locate some credible sources of information, write a journal entry about how they affect your view.

4/15  Discussion of Civil rights, especially Gay Marriage. Group presentations. Successful collaboration–how to handle it.

Week 10

4/20 Continued group presentations as needed.  Discussion  of the final project project proposals; develop them and get feedback in class.

  • What is our claim/question?
  • How will we present it?
  • Create outline or story board

4/22 Project Proposal Due – Feedback and revision in class.

Week 11

4/27 Group Conferences at Mom’s Cafe.  Final proposal due at the conference where you will get the “go ahead” or not.

4/29  Furlough Day

Week 12 Workshop final Papers/Projects

5/4 Bring what you need to work on your project; I’ll check in with each group and answer questions, offer feedback, etc.

5/6 Today you’ll share with peers and continue working.

Week 13

5/11 Re-visiting Collaboration

5/13 Final Projects/Papers due for feedback.  Plan presenting it in class as a group.  That is, each peer group will present their project to the whole class on Thursday.

While giving feedback and choosing a project to present, consider the question or issue the group explores:

  • What makes it important?
  • How are background information and research data given, so that viewers or readers can really understand the argument and conclusions?
  • How did the authors choose to use other media to support their explanations and arguments?
  • Do you understand how all the information fits together?
  • Does the conclusion seem to follow logically from the rest of the project?

Week 14

5/18 Final projects presented.   Evaluations.


Week 15   Two furlough days, unless more time is needed.

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