WRI 101 Model Course A


Brief Course Description

Typically, we think of democracy as a political arrangement based on particular ideals, a mode of participatory governance first enacted in ancient Greece and valued today for its commitments to communal decision-making, civic inclusivity, and its preference for freedom over tyranny. In the case of the United States, the promise of democracy is echoed in the words of the Declaration of Independence, which sets forth “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as the primary virtues to be cherished and preserved for all citizens.

But democracy is more than abstract values and governmental procedures. It is, as we will argue in the course, a way of engaging in social life—in a very real sense, a mode of being, or at least a generative idea around which much of our lives are managed and measured. How has democratic life in the United States been experienced by persons who find disjunctures between democracy’s promises and their everyday lives? How have citizens addressed their frustrations, disappointments, and critiques of democratic life, and what are the special challenges of publicly representing those interests? Likewise, how have citizens, in articulating such concerns, enacted the rhetorical promise of open inquiry, critical thought, and autonomous self-governance which lies at the heart of the Declaration itself?

Students will be invited to respond to a variety of discourses that disentangle the complexities of democratic life, among them Susan Griffin’s Wrestling with the Angel of Democracy, Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration in Defense of Equality, and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. In four major writing projects, students will analyze how the experience of democratic life has been variously represented in discourse, will argue about how independence and autonomy are carried out in social contexts. The course has been designed to help students identify and respond to others’ claims and arguments in order to activate their own intellectual sensibilities, informed points of view, and rhetorical interests as writers.

 Course Guidelines for Students

Project 1 | Personalizing the Declaration of Independence | Weeks 1-4
In this project, students first read Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration, a book-length analysis of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. Allen treats the Declaration as an example of what she calls “democratic writing,” a document that was shaped by competing and collaborative forces.  Allen speaks at length about the intersection between the Declaration’s assertions about equality and her personal experience of that value’s activation in her own childhood.  She also speaks about Thomas Jefferson’s formative biographical experiences and their relevance to the argument of the Declaration.

Next, students read a chapter from Susan Griffin’s Wrestling with the Angel of Democracy, a discourse that interweaves recollections about ideologic formation from Griffin’s childhood with speculations about Thomas Jefferson’s own ideologic formation.  In a substantive essay, students are asked to put Allen’s work into connection with Griffin’s, addressing the question of how Griffin’s work can be seen to complement, extend, or complicate Allen’s understanding of how political/democratic values are shaped in childhood.

Week 1 | Tuesday

Project 1 Assignment 1

Week 1 | Thursday

Project 1  Assignment 2

Week 2 | Tuesday

Project 1 Assignment 3

Weel 2 | Thursday

Project 1 Assignment 4

Week 3 | Tuesday

Project 1 Assignment 5

Week 3 | Thursday

Project 1 Assignment 6

Week 4 | Tuesday (Peer Review of Drafts)

Project 1 Peer Review Guide

Week 4 | Thursday (Peer Review of Drafts)

Project 1 Grading Rubric

Project 1 Sample Essay

Project 2 | Walking in the City: Democratic Behaviors | Weeks 5-8
In this project, students read three discourses (one by Virginia Woolf, one by Rebecca Solnit, and one by Vivian Gornick), each of whom reflects on their encounters with strangers while walking in London, San Francisco, and New York. Each writer frames her experiences as civic encounters that involve microdymamics of quotidian life in the city. Students are encouraged to characterize these encounters as urban etiquettes which support a sense of democratic life among citizens who, though strangers to one another, support one another in ethically-oriented ways.  Students treat the three discourses individually and are then asked to compose an essay that places the three discourses in connection with one another in order to create a synthetic “theory” of city walking.

Week 5 | Tuesday

Project 2 Assignment 1

Week 5 | Thursday

Project 2 Assignment 2

Week 6 | Tuesday

Project 2 Assignment 3

Week 6 | Thursday

Project 2 Assignment 4

Week 7 | Tuesday and Thursday

Project 2 Peer Review Guide

Week 8 | Tuesday and Thursday

Peer Review in class

Project 2 Grading Rubric

Project 2 Sample Essay

Project 3 | Speaking One's Mind: Parrhesia as Democratic Practice | Weeks 9-12
In this project, students read a fictional account of a provocative public discourse offered by a speaker invited to a college to speak about her research. The speaker, Elizabeth Costello, is the major character in J.M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals. The novella includes both the text of Costello’s speech as well as descriptions of responses from the fictional college’s faculty. After examining Costello’s speech and its reception, students turn to Michel Foucault’s characterization of the ancient Greek category of discourse called parrhesia, a fearless public speech that offers, in the face of personal costs, the speaker’s truth. Foucault offers criteria for classifying a speech as parrhesiastic. In the project’s essay, students evaluate Costello’s speech according to Foucault’s definition of parrhesia, supporting the claim that Costello’s discourse does (or does not) qualify as parrhesiastic discourse.

Week 9 | Tuesday and Thursday

Project 3 Assignment 1

Week 10 | Tuesday and Thursday

Project 3 Assignment 2 

Week 11 | Tuesday and Thursday

Project 3 Assignment 3

Week 12 | Tuesday and Thursday

Project 3 Peer Review

Project 3 Grading Rubric

Project 3 Sample Essay

Project 4 | Angels in America: A Recipe for Democratic Living | Weeks 13-15
This project asked students to read playwright Tony Kushner’s essay “Notes on Political Theater” and to apply its key concept to his Angels in America: Millenium Approaches. Kushner once remarked that he understood Angels in America as a “recipe for democratic living.” Students analyze the play through the lens of Kushner’s concern that United States citizens rarely–if ever–consider the structural-ideologic forces that constrain empathy, compassion, and true understanding of the “other.” In addition, students were asked to reckon, somewhere in their essays, with the ways in which the categories of public and private operated in the lives on one of the play’s major characters.

Week 13 Tuesday and Thursday

Project 4 Assignment 1

Week 14 Tuesday and Thursday 

Project 4 Assignment 2

Week 15 Tuesday and Thursday

Project 4 Assignment 3

Project 4 Rubric

Project 4 Sample Essay