For this next essay, you will be asked to critically respond to various readings we will cover in class. Of course, when I say respond, I do not mean for you to merely say I liked it or I hated it. A response consists of more than simply opinion and general critique. When you respond to readings of any kind, in any medium, an appropriate response entails more than just a reaction or observation. Of course, with respect to a response you can start by telling the reader about your initial thoughts and reactions to a particular reading selection, but be aware that as the instructor/reader, I am hoping for a bit more substance than either a checklist of things you liked and found interesting or a laundry list of complaints.
To start, simply revisit and consider the short pieces we will have read and discussed for this assignment (Disability, The Lottery, Black Men and Public Space, and Batting Clean Up). With each work, we will have discussed various themes, ideas, purposes, contexts, topics, controversies, interpretations, etc., and I am hoping that with at least one work, we will stumble onto something that somewhat interests you. Further, I hope that you will use the class discussion as a springboard for your own thinking rather than as the source for your essays primary content (in other words, do not simply repeat what we talk about in classexpand upon our discussions). Indeed, being able to explain your thoughts, whatever they may be, is essential for just about every piece of writing. If this sounds a little broad, then keep reading
For an example of a critical response topic (or analysis, as the two terms are somewhat interchangeable), in years past when I have taught Sherman Alexies short story Indian Education, I asked my students to note that Alexie (an American Indian) underscores a particular instance in which his second-grade teacher condescendingly utters, Indians, indians, indians. In terms of my own initial critical responses to this passage, I find this interesting because I find it very difficult to believe that someone can actually hear another person de-capitalizing a word; indeed, when I call out your names for attendance, do I read your names with capital letters, or do I say your name without emphasis, implying that I am speaking your name with a lower-case letter? Can you really tell? More to the point, my critical response to this passage primarily considers the purpose of this de-capitalization and how this possible exaggeration or embellishment serves Alexie and his short story. Of course, the teachers de-capitalization of the word Indians certainly suggests that she is a bigoted individual, but I wonder if I can really trust Alexie as a credible narrator. Indeed, who is actually able to recall, with perfect clarity, any conversation from when s/he was seven years old?
In short, what I am trying to do here is identify a passage, a theme, or an idea, offer up a response/opinionbut then I am hoping to clearly explain to my reader why this matters! Above all else, when we share opinions on, say, food, TV shows, clothing, politics, etc., it is never enough to just say I disagree or Patricks wardrobe sucks. People need to know why it is important that you think I need more help dressing myselfOr, rather, with the Alexie excerpt noted above, I could respond to the passage by saying the following: Alexie depicts a sad childhood in which he clearly remembers the trauma of having a bigoted teacher. With the issue of memory, it may seem far-fetched to think that a seven-year-old can clearly remember these specific words as memory tends to fade with age; however, research* has shown that traumatic memories, even in children as young as two, are indelibly marked into the minds and psyches of young kids. To that end, Alexies memory provides readers with not just a snapshot of his youth, but, rather, a reminder that trauma often informs and influences how people live their entire lives. Indeed, most may think of teachers as individuals who nurture instead of torture, yet Alexie suggests that just one person, and one who was supposedly to be trusted, can have quite the lasting effect on a persons life. Unfortunately for Alexie, the effect was not a positive one.
*NEVER say research shows or studies have shown in your own writingyou need to do the actual researchI am allowed to be lazy here as I am just giving you an example to play with 🙂
Back to the core of the assignment: with each short reading we will cover, I am fairly sure that we discover something that is of interest to you (or even come across something that you despisedanger and hatred can lead to some very interesting and passionate writing). And once you discover something on which you want to write, you will then respond to the material in essay form. (Responding even to a single sentence, like with the Alexie excerpt mentioned above, would be a nice challengeso, consider working with a very narrow topic.) And, again, what I would like you to do is find a particular theme, pattern, or even several small passages with which you are interested, and compose a 3+ page essay in which you not only respond to the material, but you also explore, explain, interpret, speculate, and comment on the writing in question. Also consider the So What? question in order to clearly indicate the overall importance, relevance, or purpose of the ideas presented in your essay, and be sure to provide specific references to the text to which you are responding with proper in-text citations, and be sure to have a complete Works Cited page for all sources that you cite (as I will require at least two quotes from the stories/articles as practice with citationyou need to have the art/science of MLA citation down by the time we arrive at the Argument Essay). Last, use 12 point Times New Roman font, have a double-spaced, stapled essay with your name on it, and, to reiterate, be sure that your essays gives a thoughtful and critical response that is grounded in at least one the readings we have covered in class for this essay. If there are any questions about anything, please let me know.
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