Beyond dealing with the foolishness of the fogies, many of whom haven't read a book in years and apparently didn't review their kids' homework, the larger (and fun) challenge of teaching a college writing class should be obvious to anybody. At least anybody who appreciates the work of teaching any kind of literacy–basic writing, research, civic engagement–to students (and, by extension, their parents) who are, like so much of our citizenry, estranged from these…on purpose, and by design. Most of my students have never read a newspaper or serious magazine book or film review, do not even seem to know that public radio even exists. That's not their fault. (And, by the way, they are immediately delighted to hear the news of a non-corporate public alternative to the crap they're used to.)
First, though, some background. After a review committee approves them, Writing instructors at UCI choose one of these five fairly recent exemplary texts to use for the quarter, toward introducing students to the strategies, tropes, and formal expectations of research writing. These are not, it should be pointed out, scholarly texts. They are popular reads, even bestsellers, each selected because they address an urgent public policy problem. They are well written, and often fun. They not only model good writing and research, but offer research topics students themselves can develop into questions, which lead to writing their own modest research essays on a related problem.