Prompts for a Problem/Solution Essay

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At the beginning of the semester, I proposed three writing projects that would allow new college students to engage with the cognitive dissonance that accompanies the transition to college, as well as to foster resilience to persist and to thrive throughout this transition. We have reached now reached the crossroads of midterm and our second writing project. Midterm is a busy and challenging time on our large campus. In addition to academic pressures, students may face economic, social, and familial obligations as well.

In this second writing project, I try to account for these challenges and obligations by inviting students to focus on the problems they have encountered with higher education. But rather than focus solely on the dissonant aspects of their education, I ask students to build resilience by concentrating on solutions as well.  Even as current events diminish the hope for easy solutions to long-standing problems, I still believe in the possibility of writing toward a more equitable future. Writing Project 2, based on “Our Universities: The Outrageous Reality” by Andrew Delbanco, an article published this past summer in the New York Review of Books, presents the problems for an audience of educated readers—precisely the audience that many students need to write for as they pursue their education beyond the basics.

The following writing prompts and guidelines focus our discussion through the article and into the work of Writing Project 2.

Writing Project 2: Education as Problem/Solution

In Writing Project 1, you considered stories and stereotypes. As you read and write about problems and solutions associated with education, build on this knowledge and learn new theories for Writing Project 2. In doing so, you will take part in a conversation that has engaged and concerned our country for generations.

To begin the discussion read “Our Universities, the Outrageous Reality” by Andrew Delbanco. Then, based on the article, consider an issue that poses a potential problem in education for your generation. Why would your generation consider this issue a potential problem in education? What practices, experiences, or solutions would you suggest to ameliorate this issue so that future students do not encounter the same potential problem? Why would this solution work to address the problem?

Select one of the following prompts to guide your writing:

  1. Focus on a problem that Delbanco presents, and/or an issue that you have witnessed in your own education, either in college or in college preparation. What solution would you offer? Why? What objections might be raised to your solution? How and why would you respond to these objections?
  2. Choose a section of Delbanco’s article that applies specifically to readiness and preparation for college or another topic relevant for high school and/or first-year English teachers. Then, write 2 or 3 connected blog posts, of at least 600 words apiece, for an audience of English teachers. What ideas in Delbanco’s article do English teachers need to be aware of? Why? What would you want your English teachers to focus on more? What would you want them to focus on less? Why? If you wish, you may submit any of these posts for consideration for publication in Beyond the Basics.
  3. Consider the quote that Delbanco chooses to begin the book review: “The spread of education would do more than all things else to obliterate factitious distinctions in society” (Horace Mann 1848). Does this quote still have relevance in 2015? What objections might be raised to your point of view? How and why would you respond to these objections?

LENGTH1200-1800 words (4-6 pages)
CITATIONDelbanco’s article must be quoted, summarized, and/or paraphrased with internal citations.
OPTIONALOther references may come from any of the books listed in Delbanco’s review, or any of the texts cited in the review’s footnotes.
OPTIONALYou may conduct interviews with students and/or teachers for additional supporting evidence.
GENREImagine this essay as an opinion piece written in response to Delbanco’s review. You should use the optional references sparingly, or not at all. If you find an additional source, please consult with me first. Be sure to provide me with a copy of your additional source for approval.

If your students have an idea for a guest blog post based on the sample writing prompt, please let me know by December 1, 2015. I would be happy to work with student guest bloggers toward publication in Beyond the Basics.

About the Author
Susan Naomi Bernstein (she/they) writes, teaches, and quilts, in Queens, NY. She blogs for Bedford Bits, and her recent publications include “The Body Cannot Sustain an Insurrection” in the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics and “After Basic Writing” in TETYC. Her book is Teaching Developmental Writing. Other publications include “Theory in Practice: Halloween Write-In,” with Ian James, William F. Martin, and Meghan Kelsey in Basic Writing eJournal 16.1, “An Unconventional Education: Letter to Basic Writing Practicum Students in Journal of Basic Writing 37.1, “Occupy Basic Writing: Pedagogy in the Wake of Austerity,” in Nancy Welch and Tony Scott’s collection Composition in the Age of Austerity. Susan also has published on Louisa May Alcott, and has exhibited her quilts in Phoenix, Arizona and Brooklyn, NY.