Reflecting on this Semester
This semester in Social Utopias has been a very long learning process. I came into class with very basic skills in writing, reading, and thinking and all of the work that we did helped me to develop those skills. Reading so many challenging texts, discussing them and writing about them helped me to sharpen all of my skills.
My writing process has been an absolute roller coaster but in the end I think I have improved my writing skills so much. At the beginning of this year the only writing format I was comfortable with was the five paragraph essay and even that was a struggle. Teachers in high school always told me that I need to improve my clarity, diction, and syntax. While this is still a work in process I think it is fair to say that I have come a long way. One of the biggest advancements that I have made is a focus on structure and clarity. I have worked on writing strong and to the point topic sentences that reinforce my thesis. From there I have worked on making sure my paragraphs are clear in order to strengthen my overall argument. A helpful technique that I have worked on is making a reverse outline after I have written my first draft to make sure that I do not stray from my topic. This process has been so helpful and the progress it has made is pretty evident in my writing especially in the progression of response papers to my final essay.
I am going to demonstrate my progress with examples from several of my response papers. At the very beginning of the year in response paper #2 I had a lot of work to do in developing my writing. The way I began my first body paragraph was not very tactful. I said, ‘The first way that justice is defined is “to speak the truth and repay what is borrowed’ (Plato, 5). Cephalus and Polemarchus explain this first definition with lots of confidence” (Response Paper #2). Firstly, it was not a good choice to start a paragraph with a quote. I think that I thought that it was crafty but in reality it is hard to give a paragraph good structure without a solid topic sentence. I should have started with a sentence that was more relevant to my thesis and then moved into the definition of justice. Additionally, the sentence that followed my quote was vague and did not provide any analysis of the definition that I chose. I am happy to say that I am able to pick out my mistakes from past work.
My third response paper was structured slightly better and and evidenced some learning but not quite enough. The structure was better as each paragraph had a topic sentence that was more focused and the paragraphs attempted to support my thesis. However, there were lots of problems in my diction and syntax. One of the sentences I wrote said, “Each individual in Kallipolis is content because each person is assigned to a job that they are good at” (Response Paper #3). This sentence is not strong as the word “each” is repeated. Additionally, the word choice is weak as I used the word “good” to describe the way a person works. I look at response papers like this one and look back at how much I have improved in simple word choice. I am more thoughtful when I edit my papers so I look for strong word choice and attempt to eliminate repetition.
Jumping forward to Essay II is a great example of how my writing improved over the course of the semester. This essay demonstrates everything that I learned in the writing process. I worked hard to create a thorough outline with strong evidence and then developed my first draft after that. I then proceeded to edit that essay around six times, each time looking for something different. I looked at structure, flow, clarity, word choice, evidence, and punctuation in order to make sure this essay was as flawless as it could be. One example of my writing is: “More notes that the ‘one and only path to the welfare of the public is the equal allocation of goods’ (More 47). He resolves that if this change in private property can be enacted, then people will be treated fairly and receive equal opportunities” (Essay II). I am really proud of the formal tone and strong statements I make in this sentence. I am also proud of my use of evidence through quote incorporation in this section. While essay II was not perfect it was a huge improvement from my initial writing samples.
My reading methods have improved as I have explored many challenging philosophical texts. Plato’s Republic was a hard piece of writing to get through but I worked hard to read slowly and took the time to highlight and annotate the pages. Spending more time with close reading helped me to get a lot more out of the text. I was able to find the meaning the author was intending and then looked further into the writing so that I could begin to analyze. With the other texts I took on the same method and with all of this practice it continued to improve. One specific moment that I remember from reading the texts was while reading More’s Utopia was analyzing the role of government in the city of Utopia. I did close reading to determine how leaders were elected so that I could properly use it as evidence in an essay. Using close reading to look for evidence has really helped me to strengthen my writing.
Before I started this class I had no idea that I was not properly honing my critical thinking skills. I learned to not just look at the obvious conclusion from the author’s writing but to think harder. I began to narrow in on themes from the text and challenge my self to identify the author’s intended meaning. In the past I never realized that when I analyzed texts I always immediately jumped to my own conclusions and interpretations. Now I have worked on taking time to see first what the author was trying to say because that helps to inform my interpretations. I have also looked into thinking about connecting texts. Some of the most interesting discussions we had in class were when we would make comparisons between current texts and texts that we had read in the past. As we read Rousseau we made so many connections with More’s writing and ideas and that really helped me strengthen the ideas that I learned believe can only benefit my academic skill set.
One skill that we spent a lot of time developing was oral communication. We contributed to high intensity discussions and debates about the text we were reading. Certain exercises like the one where we were forced to make new arguments and add to the existing arguments of our class mates were very helpful. Additionally, we had several group presentations where we had to work on presenting information as a group and I think this worked really nicely as our groups learned to work well together. Finally, we had our final presentation on our research project and that worked on condensing a huge amount of information and thoughts into a short individual presentation. This helped to test this skills that I had been building all of this semester.
My absolute favorite part of this class was the outside the classroom learning experiences that we were lucky enough to have. The first experience we had was our visit to the Twin Oaks community. Twin Oaks is a commune where all of the people in the community work together to sustain their society. This trip was such a good experience because it felt like were getting to visit a real live example of the types of utopia we had been studying. Our tour guide really helped us to understand the businesses that Twin Oaks ran to help generate income. They produce tofu and build hammocks to generate income for the community. The residents work in cooking, cleaning, those two businesses and some of their other businesses in order to keep the community running smoothly. Instead of rotating jobs the way some communities that we studied had done they just fulfilled their required amount of weekly work hours. It was also interesting to see who ran the community and they said it was mainly small committees who took on important tasks and got them accomplished. Getting to see the utopian societal processes in action was really exciting because it put all that we were learning into action.
Later on in the semester we had another incredible learning experience when we learned about CHAT and then got to see it in person. Percy Strickland came into our class to explain the CHAT community to our class. CHAT was a community that him and his wife started to help improve the lives of the children of the poor community of Churchill. They started it to help students in school and to give them a community to stay with after school. Then as a class we went to one of the main buildings of CHAT and we got to see first hand a part of their community. Afterwards we took a bus tour of the Churchill neighborhood so that we could see the community they were working with. While this was not a Utopian community in the traditional sense it was a place where Percy land his wife were trying to improve the community. They were trying to level the playing field and give more resources and support to people who do not have enough so that they have a better chance of succeeding. This type of utopian thinking where people try to bring happiness to others is absolutely inspiring. Our out of class learning experiences gave me a chance to apply our class lessons to everyday life and it made everything we learned more relevant and important.
In the end I am so happy with what I have accomplished in this course. I have developed my thinking, reading, writing skills and enjoyed new experiences outside the classroom. I think the important conclusion is that all of these skills work together and improve together. I improved my writing a lot but that would not have happened if I hadn’t honed in my thinking or reading skills. Similarly, our discussions and outside the classroom learning helped me to have a broader learning experience. It is so unique to be able to apply what you learned in class to real life and I had the opportunity to do that. I am thrilled to say that I have come away from this course a better student.
I pledge that I have neither received nor given unauthorized assistance during the completion of this work.