1.The Advocacy Project: A Multi-modal Composition

Like the HCP Project, the main assignment here is a multi-modal composition that uses various rhetorical positions and different types of evidence to make arguments. This one, however, is a bit different from the first in that over the course of these next few weeks, as you research and evaluate various sources, and as you draft, craft and organize your thoughts and evidence, you will at some point have to make a decision to become an advocate for solutions to your central problem in at least one of the following three ways: 1) you might advocate for one or more specific solutions to the significant and current political/social/cultural problem that sits at the center of your focus; 2) you might locate the next steps to potentially solving your project’s central problem; or, 3) you might argue for why the current solutions do not work and leave your readers with questions about possible next steps. In other words, your arguments for advocating solutions in combination with the analytical reasons you provide for why you have chosen to focus on particular solutions will after weeks and weeks of diligent engagement become a richly-textured thesis statement, one that deepens your articulation of the problem at hand and argues for convincing for ways to move forward. Note: the solution you ultimately argue for CANNOT be one of your own creation; instead, you must find a solution that is already been proposed by an expert, think tank, or legislator. A key component of this assignment is that you select a solution that is feasible, and those solutions most likely come from established critical debates.

When we think of the act of advocating and when we imagine a person or an organization who is an advocate for a cause, we think of strongly held opinions delivered with intensity from a rhetorical position that appears unshakable, deeply confident in the ethical rightness of its arguments and the accuracy of its knowledge. If we look at advocacy in such ways, we can understand why it takes time to become a convincing advocate, and that advocacy, even when it is delivered in the form of a thesis-driven composition, is a form of argumentation that can be quite different from the balanced arguments we often think of as academic writing even if it is as rigorous in its presentation of evidence.

This is not to say that academic writers are not advocates. They are, and over the course of this project, you will become such an advocate—one who uses academic research and methods to deliver persuasive arguments convincingly to a public of one’s peers. Academic writers in many disciplines often write with the purpose of advocating for solutions to political/social/cultural/environmental problems. When they do so, they are expected to consider and present positions that run against theirs in various ways – call them counter arguments – in order to meet the expectations of their academic audience. They must demonstrate their mastery of established arguments and knowledge in areas of discourse and recognize the legitimacy of other perspectives, even if the author seeks ultimately to dismiss them.

In the realm of public advocacy, arguments and persuasion can look, feel, and sound quite different. Public advocates deliver strong and impassioned arguments by undermining counter arguments. They do so by choice and with knowledge about the various perspectives and pieces of evidence that may potentially undermine their case. When putting forth arguments in academic or public settings, the most convincing advocates do not simply put forward solutions without first comprehending the informed debates in which these solutions are situated. Rather, successful advocates draw from a deep well of knowledge when carefully selecting the evidence and rhetorical appeals that will make their case about how to address the profound social problems they put before their audiences.

This assignment challenges you to become that strong advocate, one who delivers convincing solutions to a current and pressing political/social/cultural problem. You cannot, in all likelihood, be this advocate at the beginning of the project. You will need to spend time researching and evaluating sources; you will need to explore various arguments and perspectives as you write proposals and drafts. At some point, however, after deepening your knowledge and maybe even after writing a full draft or two, you will need to choose a position to advocate.

For this round of feedback, I’m at your service, so I want you to list three questions at the end of your draft (or in the comments on the Canvas page) that I can respond to while commenting. The best, most targeted questions will yield the most applicable responses from me. For example, a question like “Do I provide enough quantitative evidence in my cost/benefit section to persuade my reader of my solution’s viability?” is much more generative than a question like “Does my essay flow?” (Not that flow isn’t crucial to argumentative writing, but what specifically do we mean when we say “flow”?)

2. What does it mean to “Make it MERL”?

I suppose that, technically, it doesn’t mean anything to make something MERL, but the alliteration does give us an easy way to remember and talk about what the defining characteristics of/criteria for a viable solution for the AP look like. MERLed solutions are enforceable and institutional (not personal). Consider a solution that an institution, organization, agency, or association (professional, governmental, or other) could:

  1. Mandate (through official and enforceable policies, or perhaps through Constitutional imperative/precedent)
  2. Encourage effectively (perhaps with tax incentives or funding through grants, non-profits, or federal/state budgets)
  3. Regulate (though laws, regulatory agencies [e.g. Department of Education], conventions, federal/state/regional boards/departments, etc.)
  4. Legislate (through state and federal laws)

Note: Professional associations may have a hand in mandating, encouraging, and regulating by providing secondary, non-legislative oversight over a group of professionals. Governments may legislate, regulate, and encourage through tax incentives. Think across the MERL categories.

How am I MERLing?

Start by putting a Problem Statement on paper (1-2 sentences): Sum up your problem (and not just the issue) here, and keep this in mind as you respond to the questions below.

Now, write your preliminary answers and guiding questions to help direct your ongoing research.

  1. How does my solution respond directly and specifically to the problem?
  2. How does the solution Mandate, Encourage, Regulate, or Legislate? And who provides oversight of successful implementation? What is the “MERL” mechanism? Is it a law? A tax bill or incentive? An educational program? (In other words, what makes it an enforceable, institutional solution?)
  3. What are the key steps of implementing the solution?
  4. Has your solution been implemented before? Elsewhere (state-level, internationally)?
  5. What is the cost and who will provide the budget? You must be as specific as possible here; just saying “the government” isn’t satisfactory. What part of the government? How efficient is the spending—does investment in this solution save money elsewhere, or in the long term? (If federal or state budget(s) support your solution, how will you defend your solution to taxpayers? How will you defend your solution to proponents of other solutions?)
  6. What non-monetary costs might your solution involve (perhaps a perceived loss of rights/freedoms, a perceived loss of public safety, etc.)? In other words, what might your critics say, and how will you respond?
  7. What are the strengths of your solution over others? (Why is this *the* solution to the problem?) What are some of the challenges/limitations you recognize in the solution, and why should they not be perceived as dealbreakers?
  8. What are the metrics for success (e.g. money saved, rate of obesity incidence reduced, socio-economic gaps closed)? How successful will your solution be—according to precedents, detailed analysis, or projections made by subject-matter experts? Be specific and quantify your answers to the extent possible (meaning put a number on it).

Please write your responses to each question and upload them on a document here (please try not to exceed one single-spaced page).

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