Outliers

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Textbook: a rhetoric of argument

Essay #5: Outliers Writing Assignment with Research
Your last take-home assignment gives you the opportunity to bring together in a single essay the various skills and rhetorical strategies we have practiced this semester. You will be writing a source-based paper on Outliers that will give you the opportunity to practice summarizing, defining, analyzing, evaluating, and arguing. You will also need to pursue outside research to support your ideas. This is an important assignment, so begin early and ask questions as they come up. While you may want to expand on the chapter you have prepared for the group presentation, you are always welcome to write on a chapter assigned to a different group, and two of the three essay options below allow you to use chapters we have not read together as a class. I am hopeful that the myriad of choices will help direct you to a topic that genuinely interests you.
Overview
Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is written for the popular press and is not considered an “academic” book. Even so, Galdwell’s theories are inspired by his reading of academic research studies, journal articles, books, and reports. In short, while he does not pursue primary research himself, he depends on the research of others to shape his ideas. For Essay 5, you will examine primary research Gladwell used and consider how his interpretation of a key term or unique reading of a particular study influenced and directed the ideas in Outliers. You may discover that Gladwell has brilliantly reshaped a difficult academic argument into something more accessible to the general reading public. Or you may find that Gladwell has taken a minor point from a journal article and made it the major thesis of one of his chapters. You may even uncover a misreading or troubling reinterpretation of the original research. In addition to looking at the pimary research cited by Gladwell, you should bring in outside sources from the last ten years (all written after he completed researching Outliers).
Topic Choices
Choose one of the options below to develop into a research essay. Include in your essay an introduction that briefly summarizes the main thesis and supporting ideas of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers before turning to your thesis.
Option 1: Make connections through comparison.
Use the skills learned in the definition unit to define “cultural legacy” as Gladwell is using it in the book. Find two examples in two different chapters of the book (these examples occur in the four chapters in Part Two). First summarize and then compare the examples you’ve chosen; use the skills learned in the critical analysis unit to analyze them: Where are the flaws? What is and isn’t convincing about each example? You might also consider a third example of your own to compare with these. This might be a cultural legacy of which you are a part, or maybe one that you have observed closely. (Just as an example, there is a cultural legacy in San Francisco around same-sex marriage that has accelerated legal routes here at speeds that wouldn’t occur everywhere.) Finally, use the skills learned in the evaluation unit to assess the importance of considering cultural legacy when measuring individual success. For this option, you may select a chapter we did not read together as a class.
Option 2: Deepen your understanding through analyzing a primary source.
Select one of the authors or research studies that Gladwell uses to develop his argument. Summarize the primary source; include a description of the research study design and results. Then use the skills learned in the evaluation unit to examine and assess how Gladwell uses the study in his book. What does he underscore? What does he leave out? Do you see critical information that would have helped or hurt his argument? And finally, bring in other outside sources: What research has appeared since the publication of Outliers? How might the new work reshape or reaffirm the ideas in Gladwell’s book?
Try to select a study that is academic (most choices are) and fairly recent (1990 to the present would be ideal, but in the case of a couple chapters that isn’t an option). All the sources are cited in the “Notes” to each chapter (pp. 287-296). I’m limiting this option to chapters we read together as a class.

Some studies to consider:
?Ch. 1: the age effect in sports (several articles from which to choose; Bedard and Dhuey is the most recent)
?Ch. 2: the 10,000 hour rule (Ericsson)
?Ch. 5: the ethnic myth (Steinberg)
?Ch. 7: the application of Hofstede’s Dimensions to pilots (Helmreich and Merritt, 2000); also possibly Helmreich (1994) or Sohn (1993)
?Ch. 8: how culture influences mathematics (Dehaene); Chinese and Russian proverbs (Arkush); TIMSS predictors, revised 2002 (Boe et al.); Japanese education (Blinco)
?Ch. 9: impact of No Child Left Behind (Tough); impact of summer vacation (Alexander et al.); the case for more school (Barrett)
Option 3: Delve into a portion of the book we aren’t discussing as a class.
Use the skills learned in the definition unit to define “threshold effect” as Gladwell is using it in the book, specifically as it relates to IQ (chapters 3 and 4). Locate and discuss one of the studies that Gladwell cites in developing his discussion. What parts of this study does Gladwell use? What does he ignore? Is any of the omitted portion crucial to understanding the term? Finally, use the skills learned in the causal analysis unit and the evaluation unit to assess the importance of the idea: How might a more thorough understanding of the threshold effect change how the academic world approaches the concept of intelligence?
OR
Use the skills learned in the definition unit to define “practical intelligence” as Gladwell is using it in the book (chapter 4). Find an article by psychologist Robert Sternberg that will help you understand more about this idea or skim his 1997 book (citation in Outliers, page 290). What parts of Sternberg’s work does Gladwell use in developing his discussion? What does he ignore? Is any of the omitted portion crucial to understanding the term? Finally, use the skills learned in the causal analysis unit and the evaluation unit to assess the importance of the idea: How might a more thorough understanding of practical intelligence change how the academic world approaches students and learning?
***************************************************** ???? The research component is a requirement for this essay. You must use eight outside sources, citing these sources properly in your essay using MLA style. At least one of the eight must be a primary source used by Gladwell, but you may use as many as four as long as you locate and read them yourself. The last page of your paper will consist of a “Works Cited” page that lists each source accurately (and includes Outliers, too, of course – so nine citations total). Please follow all guidelines regarding academic honesty. Ignorance is never an excuse. If you are not sure how to cite a source properly, ask me. You cannot afford to jeopardize your English 1C grade by making a mistake. And always, if you get stuck finding sources or developing your thesis or planning an outline, drop by my office. I want to help!
Peer Workshop: in Week 17

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