Along with mighty coauthors and comrades, I’ve developed three college textbooks in the past twelve years. The Composition of Everyday Life, Inventing Arguments, and most recently, Think About It all emerged from classroom interaction—from years of working with students and colleagues on different college campuses. While all the books attempt to marry writing and thinking, each project has its own story and purpose.
Think About It
This project emerged from a simple notion: good thinking has form. It doesn’t just happen. It comes in tandem with particular moves. However, much mainstream education in the past century (or more) has treated thinking as a shapeless Other—as something that happens in the dark, as something that occurs before we can get our hands on it. Teachers have relied on groupings such as Bloom’s taxonomy or the writing modes to name specific intellectual tasks, but these groupings have been limited in scope and precision. In short, they don’t necessarily describe the specific intellectual moves that make good thinking and writing. And the recent term “critical thinking” may blur away more than it names.
Think About It makes the case that good thinkers (both public intellectuals and academic writers) do a number of specific and learnable moves—things that most of us can adopt and repeat as needed. This book was designed to show students, in the cleanest terms possible, the most valued and usable intellectual moves for thriving in academic life. The chapters feature a range of famous writers (from bell hooks to David Foster Wallace)performing precise moves such as busting up a duality or denying a usual association. The book also features a section of sample essays that were written by teachers across the country—faculty members, professors, and instructors who were asked to make the moves they value, that they want to see in their own students’ work. Finally, the book gives students a range of structural tools for mapping their own projects—for tracing and charting their own work. The book is available in January 2013.
A second semester rhetoric, Inventing Arguments teaches students how to develop sophisticated arguments with the basic elements of persuasion. Now in its third edition, and used widely in first-year writing programs, the book is available at Wadsworth/Cengage.
“Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” ~Paulo Freire
The Paulo Freire quotation serves as more than an epigraph for Inventing Arguments. It characterizes the content, the prompts, and purpose of the chapters. The book attempts to show that argumentative writing is not about expressing a personal opinion but building an idea sophisticated enough to attract good thinkers. Based on the same set of assumptions and practices as The Composition of Everyday Life, this book teaches students to build arguments from the ground up—from the real material in their lives. After walking through the basic ingredients of argument (claims, support, opposition, and shared assumptions), the chapters show students how to analyze the persuasive elements in texts. From there, each chapter gives students specific questions and structural moves for generating, focusing, and synthesizing ideas.
The Composition of Everyday Life
As a first-year college rhetoric, CEL teaches students how to invent increasingly sophisticated ideas. Now in its fourth edition, the book is available at Wadsworth/Cengage.
This book was born at a tavern in Toledo, Ohio where I’d regularly meet up with John Metz (a fellow writer, musician, and college instructor). Over dinner and drinks, we’d end up talking about our first-year college composition students. We’d lament their frustration, our frustration, and the huge gap between what we wanted them to do with language and what they’d been trained to do with it. At some point in those talks, someone said that we should stop complaining and write our own book.