I sat in on a friend's freshman writing seminar, "Witchcraft, Insurance, and Terror" (course description below). His class is a writing seminar in the department of Anthropology. In addition to teaching a very interesting (the relationship between insurance policies and social issues, e.g. what insurance company ensured the World Trade Centers? What did an insurance policy on a slave look like?), I was curious about the differences in writing/argumentation skills between science majors and humanities majors.
I got to observe a classroom mock court case they were having. The most obvious observation for me was that while his students had a much larger vocabulary than mine and stronger sentence-level organization, they still struggled with constructing sound arguments. At least from this experience, I would say that an essential part of freshmen writing seminars is the teaching of critiquing and constructing arguments.
Course Description: “A brutal typhoon kills 6,300 people in the Philippines!” “A terrorist ends the lives of 77 people in Norway!” “A driverless train carrying 72 boxcars of crude oil explodes in Canada!” All of these statements refer to events in which foreseeable and unforeseeable conditions intermingle, and intended and unintended acts mix. In a chance-filled world of unavoidable violence, this course asks: How do social institutions distribute responsibility for experiences of loss? Drawing on anthropological research, noir fiction, and the philosophy of design, this seminar aims to denaturalize the cultural production of misfortune and the quintessential spaces of its management, from insurance offices to climate conferences. Writing assignments will encourage students to “think dangerously” and to juxtapose academic texts alongside non-academic artifacts.