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Assignment # 1: Analyzing An Argument (Length 6 pages)
Due date:
 October 01
In “We Need to Talk about an Injustice,” Bryan Stevenson critically examines America’s criminal justice system. He argues that this system
is characterized by racial bias and inequality, and that reform is needed. Stevenson suggests there are connections between the history
of slavery and the current era of mass incarceration, in which a disproportionate number of black Americans are incarcerated. “We Need
to Talk about an Injustice” is a TED talk Stevenson gave in March 2012.

Bryan Stevenson is the founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). Operating on a shoestring budget, this organization has
taken on the cases of poor and marginalized people, and reversed death penalties for dozens of prisoners. Stevenson is the recipient of
the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant, and was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People. Stevenson is a law
professor at New York University School of Law. His memoir, Just Mercy, was recently turned into a popular movie.

In this essay you will analyze and evaluate Stevenson’s argument. Your paper should do the following: 

  1. Describe Stevenson’s project and argument, and his most important or interesting claims.
  2. Analyze and evaluate Stevenson’s use of evidence and reasoning to support his argument.
  3. Analyze how Stevenson appeals to his audience’s emotions, establishes credibility, and deals with opposing views.
  4. Use an effective structure that carefully guides the reader from one idea to the next, and be thoroughly edited so
    that sentences are readable and appropriate for an academic audience.


Assignment # 2: Analyzing Strategies (Length 6-7 pages)
Due date:
 November 03 

For this assignment, you will read two texts that make arguments about who we are, how we represent our history, and how we could
reimagine both. You will examine and compare strategies these two authors use to persuade their audiences.

Nikole Hannah-Jones’ text, from the 1619 Project, invites us to reconsider how we think about our history, and how we understand the
contributions of black Americans to U.S democracy. Hannah-Jones’ text won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019, and has had a significant cultural

Mitch Landrieu’s text is a speech he gave explaining why he decided to remove Confederate statues from the center of New Orleans.
Landrieu is the mayor of New Orleans, and the question of what to do with Confederate statues has been a long-running debate in
the city. Landrieu’s speech, which was given in May, 2017, is about race, history, and American identity.

Your paper should do the following:

  1. Describe the authors’ main claims and support for those claims.
  2. Identify rhetorical strategies used to support each author’s argument, and analyze how these strategies work to persuade their
  3. Evaluate the extent to which these strategies effectively persuade the intended audiences, and analyze assumptions the authors
    make about those audiences. 


Assignment # 3: Analyzing and Evaluating Multiple Texts (7-8 pages)
Due date:
 December 12

In this assignment you will present an argument of your own. Your paper will describe the question, issue, or problem you wish to address.
It will describe how some other authors have approached the issue (what Graff and Birkenstein call the “they say” move in academic
writing) and then present your contribution to it. Your contribution may extend, complicate, illustrate, challenge or qualify the arguments
that other authors have made. 

Your paper may use texts and topics we have discussed earlier in the class. Or, it can explore one of the other “crises” and debates that
are currently occurring (examples:
a) the pandemic, b) police reform, c) race and racial justice, d) confederate monuments, e) social media
and democracy.)

Your paper will focus on two or three texts that take different positions on the issue/problem. You will describe points of connection,
difference, and disagreement, and evaluate relative strengths and weaknesses. You will present your own argument. Your argument
should contribute to the conversation in some way – by extending, illustrating, complicating, or challenging what the other authors say.

Your paper should conclude by addressing the significance of the issue, discussing its implications, proposing a solution, or suggesting
what can be learned from examining this issue. 


Note: In class we will discuss ways of customizing this assignment, including projects that students can work on both individually
and in groups.




Alternate Assignment Ideas

For units 2 and 3 you may decide to use different texts and reimagine the assignments. Here are some examples of alternatives
you could consider if they seem interesting, but you are welcome to come up with your own. 


The Rhetoric of Cultural and Personal Narrative
There are a set of short, popular texts that examine how cultural narratives have persuasive effects. Students could examine these
cultural narratives, but also consider them in relation to personal narratives that circulate amongst 
their friends and family. These
texts could be used to a) get at some of the issues of racial justice covered in units 2 and 3 above, 
but in an indirect way, b) allow students
to bring more of their recent personal experiences into the assignments, and c) move 
the writing assignments toward consideration
of popular culture and thus to slightly more "fun"

Here are the texts:

  • May "The Stories We Tell Ourselves." This short, 2 page text considers how stories are used to persuade, establish an 
    identity/persona, and make sense of the world. 

  • Johann Hari's "The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think." His TED talk presents
    the same argument. Hari argues that we have been telling "the wrong stories" about addiction, and he essentially makes the case for 
    decriminalizing all drugs. His arguments echo some of those calling for reimagining the criminal justice system. The text is
    a good one for examining rhetorical strategies, as his strategies are explicit and easy to identify. There is also
    a collection of materials for teaching Hari. Hari's text is short, clear, and engaging, and his TED talk is very popular.

  • Seagal, “Tales from the Cutting Room Floor.” This text is written in the form of a "diary" recounting the writer's experiences
    working on American Detective, a "Cops-like" reality TV show. Shows like Cops and American Detective, along with shows like
    Law and Order and NYPD Blue, have shaped Americans' perception of crime and policing. The writer suggests these stories provide
    a horribly distorted view of crime and of how the police are used to deal with crime.It also raises questions about the 
    racial (and racist) construction of crime in these shows. You could watch an episode of Cops with your students, discuss
    how stories are told, and why the show was recently taken off the air in the wake of BLM protests. You could invite discussion of
    what richer, more accurate accounts of crime and social problems might look like. 
  • Tufecki, “The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones.” This short article is only partly about GOT. It talks 
    about how TV shows tell stories, and how they tend to individualize, personalize, and psychologize social problems. Tufecki
    contrasts this with shows that advance "sociological narratives" that help viewers see the way power, institutions and economic 
    forces shape behavior. She discusses shows like The Wire and the first 7 seasons of GOT. She asks for a new kind of 
    storytelling, and explains why this matters. Again, this could be brought into conversation with some of the crises we are
    experiencing and the way they are represented in the stories circulating around us.
  • Colin Stokes, How Movies Teach Manhood. TED talk, 20 minutes. This video argues that the stories that surround us in popular 
    culture have a subtle but powerful persuasive force, influencing the way we think about gender roles and identity. This could 
    be used with passages in the textbook that consider how small personal narratives and large cultural narratives are used to


Some of the texts above could be used in unit two to examine persuasive strategies. They could be used to invite students
to think about how the stories around them (personal and cultural) make use of persuasive strategies, and encourage us
to see the world in particular ways. 


Some of these texts could instead (or in addition) be used in unit three to explore a "conversation." This could allow students
to begin with a personal narrative, or a set of personal experiences, then consider how this intersects with larger stories about
the crises we are experiencing. 



Using a video from the Media Education Foundation  

The Media Education Foundation has documentaries on many aspects of popular culture, from rap, to music videos, to anime. 

It also has many videos that explore race, class and gender. You could use one of these for units 2 or 3. (Note that 
you can access these for free through the SDSU library's Kanopy service.

I've sometimes used The Codes of Gender: Identity and Performance in Pop Culture. This documentary provides viewers with a
"lens" for understanding 
patterns in advertisements. It argues that advertisements use a small set of cultural "codes" to represent
men and women, and this 
shapes the way we think about gender. The documentary suggests male and female bodies are
portrayed very differently, and 
these differences reveal important cultural norms.


I created a summary of the documentary and a set of discussion questions.

The documentary is from 2009, and looks at traditional broadcast and print media. It does not consider recent online media or online 
advertisements.  But since 2009 we have seen huge changes in the way people consume media. This video could be used as a 
"lens" to look at online media - for example, at male and female instagram stars, or at the ads in online men's/women's magazines
(Students could examine the poses of Instagram model and celebrity Alahna Ly, and compare these to the poses shown in Gentleman
Quarterly's "20 hottest male models on Instagram") At the same time, students could see if today's advertisements have changed in 
ways that challenge the framework, and suggest the analysis needs to be updated or revised.


Thus students could begin with what Goffman/Jhally says, then present their own contribution to the conversation.

Students could also draw on some recent research to help with their projects. For example, "Advertising Stereotypes
and Gender Representation in Social Networking Sites
" might be a helpful text. 


There are 2 versions of the video, the full version, which is 1 hour and 13 minutes, and the abridged version which is 46 minutes.

A pdf transcript of the video is available for students to use. 




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