Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Essay Options

Guidelines for every option:

Rough: January 23rd

Final: January 29th

  • 3-5 pages. Typed drafts. Double spaced, 12 point font.
  • Use N&D as a source.
  • Use three sources from the web or elsewhere. Try proquest, for example.
  • Explain your main point.
  • Explain criticism of your main point.

    • Refine/Defend/Concede/Expand your main point.
  • We are looking for good solid ideas—original and well supported.

We are looking for real questions and real answers because these are issues that affect our lives everyday. You are in school because of the issues raised in this book. Keys to your future, whatever kind of future it may be, are in this book.

That's what we're looking for.

Essay Options

  1. Living/Minimum Wage Debate (A traditional argument)

Should we have a national "Living Wage"? Should there even be a minimum wage? What is fair? What is best for the country?

Pick a dog in the fight and back it up with well researched evidence.

There is recent legislation on this at the federal and state level. There will be information about this from the presidential candidates, too.

  1. YakTown (For the investigative journalists in the class)

    Figure 30% of Minimum wage in Washington State. Get the math right first.

    What does that rent in Yakima? Investigate and report. COMPARE THIS TO N&D.

  • What do your findings mean to the premise in N&D that housing held back many people? This will be your thesis.

Photos help. Actually going there and taking pictures.

Where are you going to get the information? The Big Picture? The best evidence?

How about "first, last, and deposit" issue in Yakima? What is the norm?

What do the motels rent for by the week? Where are they?

Safety concerns?

  1. In the real world, there's friction (This is fairly straightforward.)

    What does Ehrenreich mean when she mentions "friction" of real life as opposed to the theoretical, "Economic Man"? How do we overcome that friction so that workers move towards their highest level of financial and professional abilities? Use N&D for examples.

    Define the friction. Give examples of it in N&D'd.

    Suggest ways to overcome it.

    1. Working Poor, For Men (Nobody's done this right yet.)

Nickel and Dimed focuses on minimum wage jobs for women.

How are men affected by the issues raised in N&D?

  • What jobs are available in Yakima?
  • What about housing? Physical toll? Mental toll? Dignity?
  • Do a job search in Yakima for men. Make some phone calls. Pick up some applications. Take some screening tests.
  • What other ways can we get information?
  • How do we make this credible?
  • What does your investigation turn up?

What is to be done? (This one gets more philosophical)

The book is great at pointing out the problem. But when it comes to solutions, it glosses over objections. If you agree with the book's ideas, help Ehrenreich by addressing these objections to her solutions, and maybe add to the suggestions. If you disagree with the ideas, expand on the objections and offer your own solutions.


This question will deal with the "Evaluation" chapter a great deal.

People that work 40 hours a week should be able to survive. Right now, they live on or over the edge. How do we fix this problem?

Here's a quote from Salon Magazine:

But [the book] also half-raises questions without truly answering them….[She] shoos them off again without letting us get a really good look at them and generally shies away from admitting that however intolerable the conditions …may be, any viable alternative to tolerating them is far from obvious.

They're right. Ehrenreich's evaluation has some flaws. What she observed is pretty convincing, but when she attempts solutions or when she confronts criticism, she is vague.

That may mean there's a problem with her premise. It might simply mean that she fumbles the final push but that the issues are still real.

Here's what I'll be looking for in a good paper:

  • What are the problems she identifies?
  • What are her solutions?
  • What counter arguments does she deal with?
  • How does she address these objections?
  • Now, you take over the argument.

    • What should be done?

Maybe she should have said, You're right.

If you tend to be more conservative, this might be a good option for you to write about. What would the conservative write for an "Evaluation" of the events in N&D'd?

Or, maybe she should have explained why the criticisms were wrong. Defend her points where she has left them open.

Maybe the criticisms, being partly right, don't change the fact that there's a problem, they just point out adjustments needed to your argument, to the solution.

Once you think you've got it all figured out, ask: What are the objections to your ideas?

Whose problem is it? (Another philosophical approach)

Victimized? Victimhood? Which perspective solves the problem?

The working poor blame their situation "on personal failings or lack of initiative."

Are they right?

From Salon:
A recent survey of attitudes about poverty…suggests…resistance to classic left ideas about poverty is fairly common among the poor. For example, the low-income Americans surveyed were only slightly more likely than the affluent to blame the plight of the poor on circumstances beyond their control, rather than on personal failings or lack of initiative.

So the poor don't blame the rich. They blame themselves.

The easy answer seems to be "case closed"—but as the book points out, there might be other "circumstances" at work. Explain what those are.

How does the working poor's inability to "see the real problem" influence the solution to the problem?

Another way of asking this is:

From Salon:
Ehrenreich's image of the working poor as, in fact, simply victims of an unjust social order clashes with their need to believe that they have some say in their own fates -- and to hold the people in their lives morally accountable.

One of the issues that come up in the discussion of this book is Ehrenreich's position as a tourist in the land of the working poor. She sees them as victims and they see themselves as what?

How do the working poor want to see themselves?

Who's right?


Who is the audience for this book? Why do you think Ehrenreich wrote to that audience? What sections of this book do you think would offend the working poor? Why are they included? How do these clashes effect her credibility with her intended audience?

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