You Are Here: Readings on Higher Education for College Writers

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9780130277619: You Are Here: Readings on Higher Education for College Writers

Focusing solely on the topic of higher education—its opportunities, complexities, and challenges and how to make the most of them—this engaging anthology enriches users' critical thinking, communication, and research skills with reading and writing assignments that will improve one's ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate arguments; construct written arguments and interpretations; plus hone research capabilities using the library, on-line sources, interviewing, and observation. Moves from critical reading to informal journal writing to formal essay writing. Begins each unit with an introductory essay laying out the main issues to be covered; starts each reading with a short description of the author and a brief summary; and follows with a reflective writing assignment. Covers such subjects as popular culture, gender, the environment, the influence of advertising and other media on consumers, the economy, music, AIDS, and literacy, and emphasizes that college is about more than career preparation and personal advancement—that it is about self-understanding, social awareness, community development, learning for the sake of learning, and more. For instructors of college freshman orientation programs; also for those interested in critical reading and writing with a focus on higher education.

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As a college composition teacher and administrator for two decades, I have found it especially difficult—but also especially rewarding-to teach the critical reading and writing course. This course imparts literacy and intellectual skills so crucial to a college education and to life after college. Topics I have covered include popular culture, the environment, the influence of advertising and other media on consumer attitudes, American values, and many more. Unfortunately, students often say they find the readings irrelevant and boring. I generally respond by pointing out ways in which I believe the course material really does connect with students' lives. However, I've long wanted a book for the critical reading and writing class whose relevance to students would be more immediately evident. Despite years of searching, I couldn't find such a book, so with the help of a number of excellent teachers at the University of Cincinnati, I created one. The topic is college itself, the opportunities, challenges, and complexities it offers and how to make the most of them. What topic could be more relevant to students just starting out on their journey through the often-mysterious world of higher education?

Throughout the United States, more than 1 million students are currently enrolled in first-year college composition. As one of those students, perhaps planning to major in business, biology, education, architecture, engineering, music, pharmacy, or some other preprofessional subject, you may well be wondering why you need to take this composition class in the first place. After all, haven't you already taken 12 years of English? What exactly is the point of yet another? One answer is that the class in which this book is being used focuses on key literacy skills that need to be developed at a higher level than was necessary for high school. Mastering these skills will help you considerably in your work as a college student, in your public role as an educated citizen, and in your career (or careers, since most people do not stay in the same field for their entire working lives).

The Book's Purposes

The goals of this course concern critical thinking, communication, and research skills, tools that are crucial no matter what field you may find yourself in.

  • The reading and writing assignments included in this anthology will improve your ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate arguments, something you will doubtless be called on to do frequently in the years to come.
  • The materials in this book will help you construct your own written arguments and interpretations, a process that also involves taking into consideration the views of others.
  • In addition, the book will improve your ability to do research, using not only library and online sources but also field research techniques such as interview and field observation.
  • Just as importantly, this book will also help you make the most of your college education by examining the following question from a variety of perspectives: What does it mean for me to be a college student? You will have the opportunity to read, write, think, and talk about this question and to do a research project investigating your intended major.
  • Taken seriously, this book will help you gain a richer, clearer, and more complex sense of your own. goals for being in college, and this improved understanding will help you in your subsequent coursework and beyond.

You are no doubt hoping to be successful in your college studies. However, as a close examination of the readings in this book will reveal, success is not simply about achieving high grades and attaining a high-paying job, important though these considerations may be. Success is also about finding satisfaction and fulfillment, about figuring out what you most want to do in life, about growing intellectually, and about making a difference in the lives of others. If this book is successful, it will help you gain a greater understanding of the many forms of success and of your own potential to achieve each.

The Book's Subject Matter

You Are Here: Readings on Higher Education for College Writers consists of some of the best writing that has been done on this important topic. The book makes you a part of key conversations about schooling that have been taking place throughout our society. The readings examine questions that you may have been asking yourself about your expectations and experiences in college. The essays also introduce you to ideas and issues—ways of thinking about higher education—that will be new to you and that will help you make sense of the variety of purposes underlying postsecondary education in the United States.

  • Unit One examines the relationship between education and the surrounding cultures, considering ways in which male and female students' school experiences may differ and investigating the perceptions of students from a variety of backgrounds, perhaps including your own. It also looks at the nature and role of education in American society.
  • Unit Two moves to an analysis of college life as experienced by students and teachers alike, illuminating some of the differences in perspective between these two groups.
  • Unit Three offers a variety of possible answers to the question, "Why go to college in the first place?"
  • Unit Four looks at a range of issues regarding testing and assessment, from an examination of the prominent role standardized tests play in education to a consideration of classroom testing, grading, and assessing for learning disabilities.

Critical Reading, Writing, and Thinking

The pieces in this book concern issues directly relevant to you as a college student and very significant for our society as a whole. Thus, the essays are meant to be read rigorously and thought about in depth. That's what this course is all about. Readings are not simply to be skimmed over, restated, and slotted mechanically into an essay with a thesis statement and three supporting points. You will need to work on these readings actively, taking the authors' ideas seriously enough to understand them but also to question and critique them. You will need to use what you already know and think about a subject to help you understand what the writer is saying.

In a particular reading, for example, you may find points with which you agree as well as others with which you disagree. You may question specific evidence and/or arguments a writer provides in support of his or her views. You may dislike an author's conclusions but find his or her argument and support compelling nonetheless, or you may like the author's conclusions but find the argument lacking in some way. These readings and the issues they discuss are complicated, and your responses to them should be complicated as well. Accordingly, you will need to have a strong sense of what the author is arguing, how he or she constructs and supports that argument, and how it relates to other pieces you have read, as well as to your own past experiences and observations. You will also need to develop your own interpretations of the readings. These interpretations should be thought through and carefully supported, not simply based on your immediate and unreflective response. If you don't already have an opinion on a particular issue, you might think of the assignment as an opportunity to develop your own view.

Your teacher will expect you to read and write about each assigned essay carefully. Toward that end, an apparatus has been provided to support you in your work. Before each reading, you will find, first of all, a short summary of the essay along with some background information about the author and the text. Reading this introductory material is essential. It's not an optional extra to be skipped in order to save yourself a little time, but rather an important first step to help you make sense of a complex piece of writing.

Following this opening information will be a short paragraph entitled "To Consider." Here you will find questions and issues that place the reading in an intellectual context and that direct you toward its primary themes. Most likely, you have had some experience in the past with prewriting as preparation for English class essays. You might think of the "To Consider" section as prereading intended to prepare you for the essay that awaits. Carrying out this preparatory work prior to reading the essay itself will aid your understanding and put you in a stronger position for the reading and writing activities that follow.

After you complete the "To Consider" section, it is time to read the essay itself. The readings in this book are designed to make you think, to help you learn, and to give you something to write about. Don't short circuit the thinking, learning, and writing process by reading quickly and superficially in your haste to complete the assignment. A shallow reading will almost certainly lead to shallow writing, in particular because writing assignments will require you to examine carefully and discuss extensively the ideas elaborated in the readings. When reading an essay, keep in mind the preparatory questions you have been asked to consider. Reading is a very active process. When we read, we are not passively receiving the material but are actively constructing meaning. We construct meaning by using what we already know—about the subject at hand, about our own beliefs and prior experiences, about reading, about the culture in which we live, and, if the text under scrutiny is from a different time or place, the culture in which the work was produced. We apply these different types of knowledge to the text at hand to figure out what the author is saying and what we think about it.

As you read, annotate the text to help you make sense of it:

  • Underline or highlight what seem to you to be key points and comment on their significance in the margins.
  • Point out places where you agree or disagree with what the author is saying, or where you don't understand.
  • Circle words that you might need to look up in the dictionary, although you might want to see first if you can figure the word out from its context.
  • Use the margins as a place to ask questions, make connections, express opinions, outline the main ideas of the text, and reflect on the meaning and implications of what you are reading.

Annotating a text is an important part of understanding it and often leads to better understanding and, therefore, better performance on essays. Included next is a short sample essay published in 1975 by Russell Baker, longtime columnist for The New York Times, entitled "School vs. Education," along with my own annotations.

Marking a text in this way can be an enormous help when it comes time to write an essay in which you discuss the text, because the annotations help you work through the author's argument and develop your own responses to it.

Following each reading is an informal writing activity entitled "Reflective Writing." These entries should be a page or two in length and should be completed after carrying out the assigned reading. The reflective writing prompt provides an opportunity for you not only to summarize but also to interpret and mull over the arguments discussed in the reading. In many cases, you will be asked to relate an author's points to your own experience and understanding. However, the views you put forward should not involve unsupported personal opinion or emotional response alone; you must ground your discussion in the specifics of the text you are writing about. This sort of writing is informal in the sense that the quality and complexity of your ideas are more important than the correctness of your grammar, punctuation, and spelling. You should use these assignments as a chance to reflect, or think on paper, about what an author is trying to say and how it relates to what others, including you, have said and thought. Reflection involves consideration not only of other people's ideas but of your own views as well. You will need to consider the rationale or justification for your own developing opinions about the issues discussed in the readings. Taking the reflective writing seriously will help you do your best work on the formal essay assignments of the course.

In addition to the informal reflective writing activities concerning the individual readings, for each unit there is a formal, extended essay assignment drawing in detail on several of the readings in the unit. Several possible essay topics appear at the end of each unit.

An important point is that although personal experience and opinions are crucial considerations in writing critical essays, these assignments are not meant to produce personal essays in which you focus exclusively on your own ideas and experiences. Rather, you should aim to develop a well-elaborated discussion of an important issue, using your own background knowledge but drawing on, and examining in depth, specific points from the assigned readings in order to put forward your own informed perspective on the issue in question.

For these essay assignments, your teacher will expect you to engage seriously with the readings. You should use material from the readings in a variety of ways, the most common of which is to support your own views. But many students think that points from the readings should only be used for support. I strongly encourage you to branch out into other uses of text. Of course, where appropriate, you should include the words and ideas and evidence of others to back up your own views. However, and this is where students often have trouble, you should also bring in the reading. for other purposes. For example, you may bring in points from a reading:

  • to argue or disagree with the authors
  • to look for connections or points of contrast among ideas
  • to speculate about to explore an idea in detail and from different perspectives to examine the relations between the texts and your own goals, insights, and experiences.

The most important and challenging intellectual work of the course will center around your engagement with the readings as you construct your own interpretations and arguments about education.

An Invitation

This course will be intellectually challenging, but I hope it will also be interesting and useful in your own development as a college student. As you use this book in your class or after you finish working with it, I invite you to drop me a note with a question, comment, or criticism. I do so because this book, like your own approach to college studies, is in a continual process of development. Good luck in your coursework, and happy reading and writing.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank the following people for their help in putting together an earlier draft of this collection. Sherry Cook Stanforth, Christina Court, Matt DeWald, Megan Fitzpatrick-Jones, Kelly Fuller, Michele Griegel, Vive Griffith, Alli Hammond, Rob Hartzell, Brent Heckerman, Ron Hundemer, Kurt Jaenicke, Francis Janosco, Peter LePage, Ann McClellan, Shirley McKee, Rebecca Meacham, Sandi Nieman, Julie Perry, Jay Peterson, Anna Priebe, Carol Rainey, Nan Reitz, Cynthia Ris, Wendy Rountree, Lynn Shaffer, Adam Sol, Sheila Townsend, and Brad Vice. Diana Becket gave many valuable suggestions for the reflective reading and writing prompts. Maggy Lindgren and Lucy Schultz offered excellent critical feedback on all aspects of the book. Corey Good, my Prentice-Hall editor, kept the publication process mov...

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