Dangerous Ideas

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Dangerous Ideas Pencil.jpg
English Composition 101 - Honors College
School: Rutgers University
Section: 50:350:101:H5
Semester: Fall 2014
Location: CS-203
Time: TTh: 11am-12:20pm
Instructor: Michael Russo
Contact: Available on Sakai
Additional: None
#! This is a course description page, designed for students and containing the course syllabus and expectations.
#! If you are a student, then check this page regularly for updates.
#! All changes are recorded and documented on the course history page.

Dangerous Ideas: Dissent & Debate, Fall 2014, Rutgers University, is an English composition course inspired by Professor Doyle Wesley Walls, and taught by Michael Russo with the purpose of inspiring students to become better writers and better thinkers. The class is modeled on the pedagogies of Dr. Shanyn Fiske, Dr. John C. Bean (Engaging Ideas), and Michael Russo. Polemic materials are used as prompts in order to motivate students to think critically about their own beliefs and to question preconceptions concerning arguments and argumentation. The class uses classical and contemporary rhetorical models as guides to improve composition in analytic writing.


Students of Composition: The goal of this course is to teach you to become a better writer and a better thinker. Although you will be learning and practicing different methods and styles of communication, by the end of the semester you will be expected to produce a thoughtful, purposeful paper demonstrating academic skill in the areas of summary, analysis, and synthesis. You will be expected to show that you can engage productively with difficult texts and ideas. Utilizing the techniques learned in this course, you will prove an ability to organize your thoughts and opinions into practical discourse. You will support your claims with facts in an effort to situate yourself in a field of scholarly conversation.

This is not a class in creative writing. The purpose here is to help you understand the utility of critical thinking, especially when dealing with new concepts. The class theme, Dangerous Ideas, is meant to introduce you to alternative ways of thinking about popular controversial issues such as sexual rights, political liberties, and religious freedoms. Many of the assigned readings take the form of non-fiction essays and opinion pieces by well-known contrarians: Hitchens, Dawkins, Dworkin, etc. These short, accessible readings are meant to advance civilized, rational argumentation and debate. They are also meant to inspire you to think for yourself about demanding issues.


Learning Goals

You will develop an understanding of the stages involved in creating a written argument. You will develop the ability to “think in writing” and demonstrate that ability through written response. You will acquire close-reading skills and by the end of the semester apply those skills to a five-page analytical essay.

The Writing Process

UNIT ONE: Concentrate on posing questions, pre-writing, understanding and responding to text. By the end of this unit you will be expected to have a beginner’s understanding of the structure of a written argument, express your ideas about a particular text, summarize and respond to readings, and compose short response papers showcasing the skills you’ve learned.

Close Reading

UNIT TWO: In this unit you will practice approaching a text with a more critical eye. Concentrate on analyzing words at the level of the paragraph/sentence. You’ll be expected to distinguish between summary and analysis in your own writing, close-read a given passage in a primary text, follow an author’s line of argument throughout a work, and finally express your ideas in the format of a short scholarly essay.

The concluding ANALYSIS PAPER will be your first attempt at creating a polished essay. I expect you to use what you’ve learned so far, to the best of your ability as a novice scholar.

Topic Sentences and Theses

UNIT THREE: In this unit you will learn how to write an argumentative thesis, and how to support that thesis with written proofs. Concentrate on distinguishing the difference between strong and weak claims, understand the pitfalls of logical fallacies, and learn how to support your own ideas with fact-based evidence. The concluding ANALYSIS PAPER will be your second attempt at creating an analytical essay. By now you should be able to organize your thoughts into a confident work that demonstrates your ability to derive meaning from a text.

Putting it Together

UNIT FOUR: In this unit you will attempt to synthesize what you’ve learned so far into a polished analytical essay. We will also take a closer look at literary arguments. I expect you to be working on, revising, and editing your final paper. Concentrate on developing the tools you’ll need to sustain an argument throughout five pages. Use Thanksgiving break as an opportunity to delve deeper into your subject.

The concluding FINAL PAPER will be your last attempt at creating an analytical essay. The FINAL PAPER should be an advanced demonstration of your ability to engage with the scholarly community through structure and reason. Pay close attention to the threads of your argument, to your word choice and grammar, and especially to the notes you’ve taken throughout the semester. This is your opportunity to show off what you’ve learned.



Cover for Letters to a Young Contrarian, by Christopher Hitchens.
From La Mort de Socrate, Oil on Canvas, Jacques-Louis David (1787).
Martin Luther King Jr., Original Portrait Pop Art Painting by Derek Russell.

This is a composition course, so of course you'll need a pencil and paper. Also you'll need a notebook, and a binder for class handouts. You must purchase or rent the primary texts listed below. All supplemental materials will be provided by the instructor, either on paper or uploaded to the class Sakai page.

Primary Texts

(The following materials can be purchased either on Amazon or at the University Bookstore.)

  • Parfitt, Matthew. Writing in Response. Print. ISBN: 0312403933.
  • Lunsford, Andrea A. Easy Writer. 5th ed. Print. ISBN: 1457640465.
  • Hitchens, Christopher. Letters to a Young Contrarian. Print. ISBN: 0465030335.
  • O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Print. ISBN: 0618706410.
  • Plato, “Apology.” Four Texts on Socrates. Trans. Thomas G. West. Print. ISBN: 0801485746.
  • Plato, “Apology.” Plato’s Apology of Socrates. Trans. Steve Kostecke. Print. ISBN: 1456490613.
  • Nabokov, Vladimir, et al. The Annotated Lolita. Print. ISBN: 0679727299.


  • 12 Angry Men. Dir. Sidney Lumet. MGM Studios, 1957. Film. IMDb Info.


(Supplemental materials provided by the instructor. This section may update as the class progresses.)

Supplemental Reading:

Supplemental Video:

  • Hearts and Minds. Dir. Peter Davis. MGM Studios, 1974. Film Clips. IMDb Info.
  • Kent State: The Day the War Came Home. Dir. Chris Triffo. TV, 2000. Film Clips. IMDb Info.
  • "Socratic Citizenship: Plato's Apology." OpenCourses. Yale University, 2008. University Lecture. YouTube.
  • "What is Real?" 8-Bit Philosophy. Wisecrack, 2014. YouTube.
  • "Bimbo's Initiation." Dir. Dave Fleischer. Max Fleischer Studios, 1931. Cartoon. IMBd Info.
  • "What is Woman? Simone de Beauvoir + Metroid" 8-Bit Philosophy. Wisecrack, 2014. YouTube.
  • Arcade Fire. "We Exist." Dir. David Wilson. Merge, 2014. Music Video. YouTube.

Supplemental Audio:

  • Simone, Nina. "Pirate Jenny." The Best of Nina Simone. Polygram Records.
  • N.W.A. "Fuck Tha Police." Straight Outta Compton. EMI Records, 1988. Audio.



Writing Assignments

The papers you’re expected to write will fall into one of the following four categories:

  1. REACTION PAPERS - LOW STAKES: Ungraded responses to the class, your readings, and the experiences you encounter in this course and beyond. These papers do not need to be heavily edited or structured, and can be formatted in any way you like so long as they fit on a single sheet of paper. I will use these writings to gauge your involvement and progress throughout the class. They can take the form of essays, journal entries, epistolary prose, poetry, etc. So long as you turn your REACTION PAPERS in on time, you will receive 100% credit for the work completed. If you do not turn these papers in on time, you will forfeit credit.
  2. SUMMARY & RESPONSE PAPERS - LOW STAKES: Structured responses to specific readings that we encounter in this class. They are your chance to practice academic conversation, in two to three paragraphs, about 500 words. These papers should be seen as preparatory material for your ANALYSIS PAPERS, and should be treated with as much care as you would a refined draft. Although these papers are ungraded, they should be used as a means to develop your scholarly voice. So long as you turn these papers in on time, you will receive 100% credit for the work completed. If you do not turn these papers in on time, you will forfeit credit.
  3. ANALYSIS PAPERS - HIGH STAKES: Practiced, scholarly texts that discuss the readings by way of the methods and tools learned in this class. Pay close attention to your diction, your grammar, and the structure of your argument. These papers should be seen as preparatory material for your FINAL PAPER. They should be three-to-four pages in length, address the authors and issues we’ve encountered so far, and demonstrate your ability to synthesize information and analytic thought
  4. FINAL PAPER - HIGH STAKES: Represents a summation of the skills and methods you’ve learned in this course. You are expected to create a scholarly, analytical essay that sustains a single, coherent argument through no less than five complete pages. The FINAL PAPER should be a sophisticated attempt to engage with an academic community through structure and reason. Mind your diction, your grammar, the organization of your argument. Use support materials. All other class writing ceases on November 11, as I encourage you to use your “free” time to develop, draft, revise, and polish this last assignment. The FINAL PAPER should critically address at least one of the readings encountered in class, but ideally should showcase your ability to integrate the themes and topics you’ve encountered throughout the semester.

In-Class Participation

In-class participation will be calculated by way of your attendance, the completion of homework assignments, reading quizzes.

Rutgers University allows students two absences without penalty. However being absent does not excuse you from your writing assignments. If you are going to be absent, I expect your work uploaded to Sakai. If you are absent more than six classes, you will fail for the semester.

Online Participation

Participation on the Sakai class discussion board is mandatory. I expect you to make at least one post a week (Tues-Tues) on the “Required Responses” forum. The posts should be no less than 50 words in length. Online posts will not be checked for grammatical or syntactical errors. If you do not participate in the forums, you will forfeit credit.



I am not interested in policing your every behavior. The rules of this course can be summed up in three points:


The nature of this course is one of debate and argumentation. Since we will deal with heated topics it is important to note that everyone has the right to be considered in a manner consistent with academic civility. If somebody says something that you vehemently disagree with, I expect you to reply calmly and with propriety. Remember that we are here to learn from each other, not to criticize without tact or reason. Disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated.


Food will not be allowed in the classroom. Water is acceptable.


All work must be submitted in two copies, the first on paper, the second uploaded to Sakai. I expect to have both versions available to me by the start of class. No extensions will be given for late papers. For every day your work is late, you will be penalized by one-third of a letter grade (B+ to B to B-).The work you submit must be your own, and written specifically for this class. If you plagiarize another author’s work, you will receive an F for the paper and may fail the course.

Familiarize yourself: Rutgers Academic Integrity Policy


Use sans-serif fonts, especially for those papers uploaded to Sakai since I’ll probably be reading them on a computer screen. I prefer digital papers to be submitted in .pdf format in order to maintain formatting across multiple devices. However I will also accept papers submitted in Microsoft Word format.

  • ANALYSIS/SUMMARY & RESPONSE/FINAL PAPERS: Use one-inch margins, a single-spaced header, a double-spaced body, and a font similar to 12 point, Arial.
  • REACTION PAPERS: Formatted any way you like so long as they fit on a single sheet of paper.


Determining Your Grade

  • Reaction Papers, 10% ; Summary & Response Papers, 10% ; Analysis Papers, 25% ; Final Paper, 25%
  • Online Participation: 15% ; In-Class Participation: 15%

Extra Credit

REVISIONS: You are allowed one revision on one ANALYSIS PAPER. If you are unsatisfied with a grade you received on one of your ANALYSIS PAPERS and you would like to rewrite it, then submit the revision stapled to the back of your FINAL PAPER on the last day of class. There is no guarantee your grade will actually improve, unless the writing improves. Don’t allow rewrites to interfere with other work.


Schedule of Classes

The following is a breakdown of meeting times and assignments. Changes to the syllabus will be announced in class; however, you are expected to periodically check this page in order to make sure that you don't fall behind. Any additional homework will be announced in class.


Date Reading Due Writing Due
09.02.14 O'Brien: TTC
09.04.14 Parfitt: Intro & Chapt 01
09.09.14 Parfitt: Chapts 01 & 02
09.11.14 O'Brien: TTC, "On the Rainy River" Reaction Paper
09.16.14 O'Brien "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" Reaction Paper
09.18.14 Hitchens: Letters, Chapts I-VIII Summary & Response
09.23.14 Hitchens: Letters, Chapts IX-XVIII Summary & Response
09.25.14 King: "Letter from Birmingham Jail" Summary & Response & Active Reading Notes

UNIT TWO: CLOSE READING (Sept. 30 - Oct. 16)

Date Reading Due Writing Due
09.30.14 Parfitt: Chapt 05; Lunsford: 1-3f & 5-6b; Watch: 12 Angry Men Reaction Paper
10.02.14 Apology. Trans. West
10.07.14 Apology. Trans. Kostecke
10.09.14 Watch: "Socratic Citizenship" Summary & Response
10.14.14 Parfitt: Chapt 06 Two Ideas for upcoming Analysis Paper
10.16.14 NONE: Work on your Analysis Paper Draft of Analysis Paper


Date Reading Due Writing Due
10.21.14 NONE: Work on your Analysis Paper Analysis Paper
10.23.14 Dawkins: TGD, Chapts 01 & 02 Reaction Paper
10.28.14 Dawkins: TGD, Chapts 03 & 04 Summary & Response
10.30.14 Eagleton: "Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching" Reaction Paper
11.04.14 Parfitt: Chapt 07 & 08; Lunsford 29-32e Two Ideas for upcoming Analysis Paper
11.06.14 NONE: Work on your Analysis Paper Draft of Analysis Paper


Date Reading Due Writing Due
11.11.14 NONE: Work on your Analysis Paper Analysis Paper
11.13.14 Dworkin: Intercourse, Chapt 07
11.18.14 Nabokov: Lolita, pp 1-89
11.20.14 Nabokov: Lolita, pp 89.142 Two Ideas for upcoming Analysis Paper
11.25.14 NONE: Work on your Final Paper Draft of Final Paper
11.27.14 NO CLASS: Gobble Gobble You should probably be working on your Final Paper
12.02.14 NONE: Work on your Final Paper Second Draft of Final Paper & notes
12.04.14 NO CLASS: Individual Conferences Bring Final Paper & notes
12.19.14 Conclusions & Goodbyes Final Paper due; Extra Credit revisions due


If you have a diagnosed disability and you are on file with the Office of Disability Services, please provide me with a letter of accommodation so that we can work together to make this class accessible and meaningful to you.

Timothy Pure, Ed.M., Assistant Director/Coordinator of Disability Services
tpure@camden.rutgers.edu // 856.225.2717

External Links

  • The online forums, supplemental materials, and instructor contact information can be accessed via our Sakai page.
  • Onelook.com is an excellent dictionary aggregation tool that I recommend to all new writers.
  • The Purdue Online Writing Lab for tips and tricks to improve your writing.


Further Reading

Students who would like to continue improving their writing skills may want to check out the following resources:

  • Alley, Michael. The Craft of Scientific Writing. Print. ISBN: 0387947663.
  • Aristotle. The Rhetoric. ISBN: 0486437930.
  • Bacon, Nora. The Well-Crafted Sentence. ISBN: 1457606739.
  • Cothran, Martin. Traditional Logic: An Introduction to Formal Logic. Print: ISBN: 1930953100.
  • Orwell, George. Politics and the English Language. Print. ISBN: 1849028362.

Students who are interested in the theme beyond the scope of this course may want to check out the following resources:

  • Sample. Steven B. The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership. Print. ISBN: 0787967076.
  • Winokur, John, ed. The Portable Curmudgeon. Print. ISBN: 0452266688.