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English 236, Section 2, Spring 2004


University of Wisconsin-Madison

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English 236, the English Department's Bascom Course, is a low-enrollment, faculty-taught, intermediate-level writing course designed to help you develop your skills in written argument, critical reading, logical thinking, public speaking, and the use of information resources.  It fulfills the university's Communication B requirement and assumes successful completion of or exemption from the Communication A requirement.

This section of English 236 is titled Writing and Reasoning: The Jury Project.  It offers practice in written and spoken argument through the use of mock jury deliberations.  This is the third time I've taught the course, but it is still something of an experiment for me; I am confident it will be like no other writing class you've had.  The focus of the class is "public" discourse.  But this does not mean that I will be asking you simply to express your opinions on controversial topics, practice campaign-style "rhetoric," or engage in political activism.  Rather, I will be asking you to use written and spoken argumentation as a way to reason, with others, through complex problems.  The model of public life that I'm working with here is similar to what some political philosophers have called "deliberative democracy," a form of social activity that involves normal people working together to solve shared problems, negotiate conflicts and differences, and shape their communities in mutually beneficial ways.

The central player in such activity is the citizen, whom I define, following Aristotle, as someone who shares in civic judgment.  For Aristotle, one of the most important offices of civic judgment was that of the juror, a member of a body formed to hand down a verdict or make a decision on some matter.  Jury deliberations are familiar to most of us from television and movies; they remain an important, and distinctive, feature of American self-government.  According to Jeffrey Abramson, "no other institution of government rivals the jury in placing power so directly in the hands of citizens"; though it could be argued that preparing young people to serve on juries is so far from a prominent developmental objective of our schools that we might as well say they are actually hostile to it.

What are some of the features of jury deliberations?  First, juries are open to all, i.e., they are a general, non-expert form of public deliberation.  Second, jury deliberations are intensely social, the decision emanating from a group rather than from one or another individual.  Third, the decisions of juries are reached (ideally at least) by rational argument rather than by arbitrary choice, physical violence, or coercion.  Fourth, such argumentation takes place in the everyday language of informal discussion.  And fifth, juries enact practical or case-based reasoning, concerned as they are not with justice in general but with the particular situation or case at hand.  It is this kind of deliberative activity that we will use as a model for reading, writing, and speaking in this course.

The course is not, however, about the law or the jury system (though you will no doubt learn a great deal about both), nor is it a course meant to prepare you for actual jury duty (though that would be a valuable by-product – it's surprising how little jury duty seems to have figured in our education system, though the cognitive, social, and discursive demands placed on jurors in our society are quite daunting).  The primary reason for using the jury here is that it is a powerful model of social problem-solving and argument.  And it is those things that we will focus on here.

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Work in the course will include:

A.)  Two weeks of reading and talking in fairly general terms about politics, practical reason, and rhetoric.  We'll learn some history, acquire a little theory, and note some important problems and questions.  We'll also introduce ourselves to the procedure we’ll be using this semester.

B.)  Twelve weeks working on three specific "cases."  The first of these will be a mock civil trial from Georgetown University's Street Law project; the second will be an actual case from the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003-04 docket; the third will be determined as the semester progresses.  We'll work on each case through a combination of individual, small-group, and whole-class activities.  Specifically, you will:

1) be introduced to the case;
2) read and summarize individual arguments;
3) synthesize multiple arguments into a "map" of the case;
4) analyze and critique opposing arguments on the same sub-question;
5) deliver and respond to oral arguments;
6) deliberate individually and together;
7) vote; and
8) write an opinion either supporting or dissenting from the majority.

Each case will last about four weeks.  For the oral argument phase, you will play the role of advocate once and juror twice.  Advocates will be responsible for preparing and delivering oral arguments to the class.  Jurors will be responsible for asking questions of the advocates during these arguments.  Everyone will be responsible for carefully reading all materials pertaining to the case; writing summaries, syntheses, and analyses of the positions involved; participating in whole-class discussion and voting; and writing final opinions.  For each case, each of you will turn in to me:

• a written summary of a single argument in the case (1 p),
• a synthesis "map" integrating all the main arguments in the case (1 p),
• an analysis of opposing arguments on one or more sub-questions (3 pp), and
• a position paper justifying your final decision in the case (5-7 pp).

You will also be graded on your participation both in oral arguments specifically and in class discussions more generally.

C.)  One meeting for final reflections about your experiences in the course.

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Attendance is required for this class.  A poor attendance record (2 consecutive or 3 total absences) will adversely affect your grade.  If you miss class 4 times over the course of the semester, you will not pass the class.  If you anticipate being absent from class, notify me.  You are responsible for making up work missed due to absence, although such work may still be penalized.  Late arrival to class may be counted as an absence.

Papers and exercises should be turned in at the beginning of class on the date due and either typed or word-processed.  Late papers will be penalized one letter grade for each day late.

As for plagiarism, it is academically dishonest, and sometimes illegal, to present someone else's ideas or writing as your own.  You cannot use even short phrases or parts of sentences obtained from other sources unless you properly document those sources.  Documentation includes marking quotations as well as providing notes, citations, and a reference list.  In addition, it is academically dishonest to submit your own previously written work for a current assignment or to submit an assignment in more than one class without the prior permission of the instructors.  Plagiarism and academic misconduct of any kind may constitute grounds for failing the course and may result in further disciplinary action according to university policy.

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4.  TEXTS.

Most of the readings for the class will be available in coursepaks from Bob's Copy Shop, 37 University Square (257-4536).  There will be 3 packets, one for each case; in the past, these packets have averaged less than $10.00 each.  The first packet should be ready by the beginning of Week 2.  We will also be reading D. Graham Burnett's A Trial By Jury (New York: Random House, 2002); it is available now at University Book Store for about $12 – you should buy this book right away as we will be discussing it during the second week of the semester.  Additional readings for the course will either be distributed in class or made available on the internet for downloading and printing at your own expense.

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I use a 4 point system for evaluating your work: 4 for excellent; 3 for good; 2 for fair; 1 for poor; and 0 for unacceptable or missing.  Intermediate grades may be used (e.g., 3.5).

Final grades will be computed using the following formula:
3 summaries @ 5 % ea. 15 %

3 synthesis maps @ 5 % ea. 15 %

3 analyses/critiques @ 5 % ea. 15%

3 oral arguments @ 5 % ea 15%

3 position papers @ 10/15/15 % 40%

Final Grade = 100

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Unit I: Introduction
Week 01 Tu Jan 20 introduction to course

Th Jan 22 no class
Week 02 Tu Jan 27 reading: Burnett Part I

Th Jan 29 reading: Burnett Part II

Unit II: First Case
Week 03 Tu Feb 03 introduction to case 1

Th Feb 05 reading individual arguments (summary due)
Week 04 Tu Feb 10 integrating multiple arguments (synthesis due)

Th Feb 12 critiquing specific arguments (analysis due)
Week 05 Tu Feb 17 oral arguments (advocacy and questioning)

Th Feb 19 deliberation; Paper 1 (written opinion) draft due
Week 06 Tu Feb 24 deliberation; voting

Th Feb 26 Paper 1 final due

Unit III: Second Case
Week 07 Tu Mar 02 introduction to case 2

Th Mar 04 reading individual arguments (summary due)
Week 08 Tu Mar 09 integrating multiple arguments (synthesis due)

Th Mar 11 critiquing specific arguments (analysis due)
Week 09
Mar 13-21 Spring Recess
Week 10 Tu Mar 23 oral arguments (advocacy and questioning)

Th Mar 25 deliberation; Paper 2 (written opinion) draft due
Week 11 Tu Mar 30 deliberation; voting

Th Apr 01 Paper 2 final due
Week 12 Tu Apr 06 no class

Unit IV: Third Case

Th Apr 08 introduction to case 3
Week 13 Tu Apr 13 reading individual arguments (summary due)

Th Apr 15 integrating multiple arguments (synthesis due)
Week 14 Tu Apr 20 critiquing specific arguments (analysis due)

Th Apr 22 oral arguments (advocacy and questioning)
Week 15 Tu Apr 27 deliberation; Paper 3 (written opinion) draft due

Th Apr 29 deliberation; voting
Week 16 Tu May 04 Paper 3 final due

Unit V: Conclusion

Th May 06 Last Class Day


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