I don’t expect all students to be as excited about aliens and artificial intelligence as I am.
That’s why we start the class talking about their goals and dreams. What’s their major?—if they haven’t chosen a major, that’s fine; but why not?—is this essay the first time someone’s asked them to think about their major? If not, who’s asked them before, and what did they think about then?
So they learn reflection. I teach them to listen for their true writing voice, and to invest their personal interests, and that writing voice, in their work. They learn to articulate their major by shaping creatively spun personal anecdotes of their childhood dreams, then comparing and/or contrasting those memories to their current life.
What did you want to be when you were eight years old?—when’s the last time someone asked you about your original childhood dream?
- Essay #1: College Major: compare-contrast your major (or thoughts you have about your undecided major) and your childhood dream. Demonstrate a mastery of personal anecdotal evidence.
- Essay #2: Future Climates: what’s an issue in climate change that we need to address in the next several years?—or where’s a climate humans will live in the next several decades?—or what’s the food we’ll eat?—the family values that we’ll change? Tell me about how the future will impact your sense of home. Argue what steps we need to take to make that future home the best one possible.
- Essay #3: Research Paper: exploration of a 21st century thought experiment through critical readings of Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven and student-researched articles.
We learn writing is better when it’s real.
We write authentically before academically. There’s no purpose teaching essay writing skills until we polished our voices.
Essays are more enjoyable once we personally invest in them. Some of them didn’t want to write about the effects of climate change on our ecosystems, and that’s okay.
That’s why they could write about the real food movement.
Or they could write about terraforming Mars; about airships on Venus.
But tell me about the climate in the future. Tell me where you’re going to live. This is a social issue. This effects us, this futurescape. Make the essay hit home by, well, telling me about your home. What’ll your home look like? Where will your generation explore? What will your generation fix?
Not everyone wants to write about how climate change is wrecking the ocean. (Though some students wrote about the sea, and their prose was brilliant.) Some wanted to talk about how empty calories are draining our soils and spreading obesity. Food is part of the climate. Others wrote why humanity should explore Mars. Future worlds are part of the climate. Space debris is part of the climate. Razed forests are part of the climate.
Then come the micro essays.
So many micro essays.
I’m just trying to help them zoom in on Ursula Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven with a thought experiment that resonates with them; with a social issue they may or may not have to face in the near future.
We’re about to head on a journey through a ten-page research essay.
Here are two of the seven vacation destinations:
- Who/what are you?—your body?—your soul?—data? Convince me this is true by bringing together your research from literature—specifically, Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven—and two other fields of academia studied at our college. (You can lean on subjects you studied in high school, as well as other college courses.) No less than three fields of intelligence are required.
- What’s the answer to the Fermi’s paradox? Using the turtles from Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, as well as two other fields of academia studied in high school or college, address which great filters you think may be at play for a starry night without aliens.
The other five prompts are forthcoming.