A Semester’s Reflection
The goals of Social Utopias are to enhance and deepen the ability to critically analyze information and communicate this understanding through reading, writing and speaking through the lens of social utopias. In order to accomplish these goals, our class has so far analyzed Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Second Discourse of Inequality, and Flora Tristan’s Utopian Feminist: Her Travel Writings and Personal Crusade. Through reading, we have written eight response papers, which three of them answered our own question, as well as a reflection and two longer essay papers. Outside of reading and writing aspects of the class, we have presented two oral commentaries, worked on multiple group projects, and visited Church Hill Activities and Training. Through these experiences, I have grown as a writer and a reader because of the focus on analysis rather than basic summary. In addition, I am now able to view the world in a new light through the class discussions of texts and prevalent utopian means.
Reading is the tool in our class that allows us to grow in all other aspects. I have grown as a reader because the class demands a close-reading of all texts. This close-reading reading requires reflection that garners analysis and insight into the value of the reading. The reading also allows for better discussions, leading to greater level of understanding. The best discussion we had in class of close-reading came from the end of Utopia when More choses the word “absurd.” This discussion enhanced my personal understanding of the text because we discussed and argued the reason why he chose this word. I found this conversation to be intellectually provocative as it changed my perspective of More’s intentions in writing Utopia. Dr. Watts and I further discussed this conversation outside of the classroom during my first conference, which furthered my understanding of the text. In addition, closely reading the materials is imperative in order to give textual support for arguments orally and written. I feel that I have grown tremendously in my abilities in close-reading as demonstrated through my first and second essay revisions (see first and second essay). In my first essay, I tended to ramble and did not have as clear of a thesis as I did in the second one, and therefore, I misrepresented my evidence. When writing my second essay, I tried to focus in on my weakness of misrepresentation from the first essay that I discussed with Dr. Watts during the first conference. While I feel that I have grown tremendously from the first essay, there are still many improvements that I can make in future essays. In order to grow, I plan to follow Dr. Watts’s suggestion of visiting Roger Mancastroppa in the Academic Skills Center. Unfortunately, I could not meet with him this semester since I had an early exam schedule; however, I plan on emailing him over break to set up a meeting during the first week of the new semester. During preparation for the oral presentation of the research project, the close-reading helped with the final oral presentation. The close explication of the source allowed for me to objectively look at the difficult topic of complex marriage and how it benefited the Oneida Community. This objective view was one of my proudest accomplishments in the First Year Seminar. The readings in class also allow for a better understanding of the outside world through the commonalities in the texts. In all of the texts read in class, the commonality of communal living/lack of greed allowed for discussion about the roles of morals/values in society as we discussed the implications of the individualistic system that we live in. These disucssions of the themes and their present implications made the visit to CHAT even more touching as the community showed the dystopian aspects of those living in poverty due to a rigged, capitalistic economy as well as CHAT’s valiant efforts to provide a utopian safe haven for the youth of the community in hopes that they would one day be successful and escape the poverty/improve the overall community. Overall, I feel like I have grown as reader since I have to read closer in order to analyze the text deeper.
In class, we wrote eight response papers and two essays throughout the entirety of the course. The main challenge of our writing is differentiating between summary and analysis in writing as well as using evidence to justify the analysis and its argument. In class, we spent a lot of time discussing the difference between summary and analysis, which I helped me a lot with my response papers and essay. I realized that most of my writing during my first paper that I thought was in-depth analysis was actually summary (see first paper). This realization challenged to step outside of my comfort zone when I was writing my second paper to insert my own views into a paper, which is something completely different than I have ever done. In addition, the use of evidence in my papers is completely different from what I have done before. Analyzing and breaking down each piece of evidence to its basic form is more in-depth than what I’ve ever done. I personally enjoy breaking down evidence this way now, I feel like gain more out of the reading by articulating my thoughts this way. While I thought that this was a strength during my first paper, I saw that it as a weakness during my second paper as I was more focused on creating an analysis-driven argument as well as structuring my paper far better than my first paper. I think I have learned valuable lessons out of both papers. From the first paper, I realized that my papers needed a sharper focus and a stronger thesis in order to improve the structure of the paper, making it easier for the audience to understand and follow my arguments. Going into my second paper, I tried to focus on my weaknesses and accidentally turned my strengths of the first paper into my weakness. I then began to deeply reflect on my papers and decided that now how I know to separately write a paper with both of my weaknesses and strengths, I needed to focus on bringing both aspects to the table. Next semester in my classes especially First Year Seminar, I plan to be more attentive to these problem areas and evaluate them during the writing process. Overall, I have definitely grown as a writer because I have learned from my failures and shortcomings in the first essay and five response papers due to the deeper level of analysis.
In and out of class, we practice oral communication. In class, we focus on the specifics that allow for deep thought on the works like the discussion on Flora Tristan’s choice of three different types of women to mirror the three Estates during Revolutionary France. These in-depth discussion relate closely to our reading skills; however, I think that these discussions challenge us to orally examine the implications of the texts and defend complex arguments by pointing to specific arguments in the text. We also have done two informal, group presentations on Republic and Utopia as well as one formal presentation on research project. I felt that the group presentations were much easier to plan and execute than I have ever did in high school; however, I also had the best group, and most of us became great friends as a result of working closely with each other, so when we had to do projects, I thought working together was much easier. I could not have asked for a better group to be a part of. The work that I’m proudest of in all of First Year Seminar is my research project and the oral commentary I gave on it. I think the flow of the presentation was perfect because it demonstrated the qualities of social utopia while also focusing on the unique aspects of the Oneida community. Complex marriage is a sensitive and controversial topic, and I thought I handled it well. In terms of oral communication, I feel as if I have neither progressed nor regressed because we don’t actively practice and critique oral commentaries regularly; however, I think that oral communication is definitely my greatest strength comparatively.
Overall, I feel like I have grown as a reader and writer due to the high demands of the class. The emphasis on analysis challenged me to step out of my comfort zone with writing and reading. In addition, this emphasis required me to reflect and ponder the deeper implications of the author’s meaning. I think this reflection intellectually challenges me to be a better reader. In addition, the deeper analysis challenges us to apply the author’s messages to modern day life and ourselves. While I’m sad that Social Utopias is over, I think I have grown as a writer, reader, thinker, and person due to the rigors of the course. I hope that my First Year Seminar challenges me as much as this course has to grow as a person.
Below I have attached updated versions of RP 6, RP 7 and FYS Essay 2 as well as the original essay 1: