Dr. David R. Williams

                                         RA 437 drwillia@gmu.edu

                                       Of hrs: TR 12-1 or by appt 



                     English 302-S10 Fall 2012

                       Tues/Thurs 10:30-11:45


                    “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalms 8:4)   

     "The phrase 'nature and nurture' is a convenient jingle of words, for it separates under two distinct heads the innumerable elements of which personality is composed."                                                                                                                                      - Francis Galton, 1874.

       "Professors are inclined to attribute the intelligence of their children to nature, and the  intelligence of their students to nurture."                              - Roger Masters




           English 302-S10 is an advanced course in writing for the social sciences that will emphasize style, content, and mechanics, with a broad look at one of the fundamental issues of the social sciences, the nature-nurture debate. However, this is not a social science course but an English course. The goal is not to push any particular approach to the social sciences. But if we are to write, we need to have something to write about. Every paper must be, in some sense, an argument. The debate between nature and nurture and the many compromises in between is an ancient and heated one. Any ideologues of one camp or another who think this debate is over will learn here, at the very least, that the war rages on. Hence, the subject is a good one for generating social science papers. 

          The conflict between the objectivity and subjectivity of the scientific enterprise, as well as our own personal subjective handicaps, will also be part of the discussion. The basic question asked in every social science is “What makes people tick?” This is not a question anyone can stand apart or aloof from.

         Ultimately the course is about your use of English to communicate and your understanding of how English works. Emphasis will be not on the rules of writing, argument, and rhetoric, but on understanding why  the rules exist. If you leave the class more aware of language, more self-conscious of your own use of language, more aware of the way words are used around you, then this will have been a successful class.





      Because of the quantity of material to be covered, much reading will be required in a fairly short time.  Participation and preparation will be particularly important.  Each student is responsible for three (3) 3-5 page papers , a mechanical mid-term, 2 one-page definitions, and a final research project. Spot quizzes on the day’s assigned reading are more than likely.  Students need to read the material carefully and bring an informed question to each class.

   Methods of instruction will include lectures, close readings of assigned passages, peer review, group analysis, writing and editing analytical essays, research practice, and much individual reading and reflection. Students having problems will be expected to attend individual assigned conferences with the professor. Assignments are due on the day indicated for them on the syllabus. Students should be prepared to discuss the assigned texts and to have ready an analytical, as opposed to a merely factual, question about the reading at each class. And, yes, homework will be assigned for each class.


Showing up:


   Woody Allen said that 90% of life is just showing up. He was wrong; it is only 50%. Otherwise, just sitting there would earn you an A. But the missing 50% is more than enough to harm your chances of getting the grade you desire if you skip class.  In addition to showing up, you need to read the desired texts by the class for which each assignment is designated. Be prepared for the possibility of spot quizzes on the daily reading assignments, including handouts. Read Sin Boldly! and prepare your papers accordingly. Proofread each line carefully before handing any paper in.

    Pay attention in class. Cell phones must be turned off or they will be confiscated. Laptops can only be used for taking notes and will be monitored. Be prepared in each class with a thoughtful question about the day’s reading. You will be expected to participate in the class discussion. So be prepared to speak up and speak out.

More than two unexcused absences can get you expunged. So can repeated tardiness which includes leaving before the class is over.



  Running a Marathon:


   Every class you take should be treated as if it were a marathon. Study the course ahead taking note of obstacles like Boston’s famous “Heartbreak Hill.” Ration your energy for when you will need it. Other papers, other assignments, sports engagements, impending deaths or marriages can all become obstacles for which you need to be prepared. Pace yourself. Keep the final goal and the overall picture of the course in mind. Think of the big picture. Do not assume you can slowly edge into the class. You have to hit the ground running from the very start of the race.  If you pace yourself and keep to that pace, an hour a day five days a week should be enough to get you an A. If you put off the reading, or the writing, until class day, you are sure to stumble. The larger papers are all assigned over the weekends when you should have more time. But, again, only you know your schedule. Plan ahead.



   Required texts:


   Required texts are my Sin Boldly!,   John Calapinto’s As Nature Made Him,  and  Alan Miller’s Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters.  A considerable stream of  hand-outs and assignments from e-reserve will supplement the class texts. These too are required reading. Quizzes will be given to see how well the material is being handled. Writing and reading are inseparable. Being sure that students can read and wrap their brains around texts in the social sciences is a large part of the course.





    After the writing sample, three longer papers and some shorter definitions will be due throughout the semester, along with a test of mechanics, an oral presentation, and a longer 10-15 page final paper. In-class writings and quizzes can be expected along with editing and rewriting exercises. Because students will be judged more on their final improvement than on their early stumblings, my policy is to discourage further rewriting of unsuccessful papers in favor of spending time and energy improving the next assigned task. Look forward, not back. The highest weight therefore will be given to the final research paper. The three papers, the shorter essays taken as a whole, and the mechanics test will each be worth 10% of the grade, the final worth 30%, and the rest will be taken up by class and listserv participation and quizzes. 

      Scholarly research techniques and citation as well as the use of both the library and the internet will be part of the class. Students will participate in a class listserv. Students are expected to be familiar with Mason's absolute prohibitions against plagiarism. See attached. Special needs students need to let the professor know what their needs are.

    I will be available in my office on Thursday from 12-1 or by appointment. Messages can be left in my box in the  English Department Office or by e-mail at drwillia@gmu.edu.



A note to the nervous:


      Social Science writing is like writing in almost any other discipline. The  same requirements are in play:  good grammar, clear  argument, valid evidence,  persuasive  logic, a strong personal voice, and a refutation of  the opposing point of view.   The social science umbrella is also a large one, especially at George Mason, where it includes sports, admin justice, and economics, as well as sociology,  psychology, and anthropology. My experience teaching this class over several years is that even sociology students are approaching this subject for the first time.              

       Some of you learned English not as a first but as a second language, and you might think this puts you at a disadvantage in a class like this. Hard though it may be for you to believe, native speakers of English, schooled in Northern Virginia, are not much better. Not having had any classes in English grammar, many are worse off than recent immigrants. Do not therefore be afraid to speak up and ask basic questions. If a question occurs in one student’s mind, it occurs in many, but only the brave speak up and give voice to it.  We all start off with the same basic ignorance. To quote Jonathan Edwards on Original Sin:


This doctrine teaches us to think no worse of others than of ourselves; it teaches us that we are by nature, companions in a miserable, helpless condition, which under a revelation of divine mercy, tends to promote mutual compassion.


I will take your condition into account and try to be compassionate, but the primary burden of learning to write before you graduate from college is yours.







Last day to add classes…………………………………………….  Sept  4

Last day to drop with no tuition liability………………………….   Sept 18

Last day to drop……………………………………………………  Sept  28














                     Weekly assignments




Aug 28: Introduction: Why is your favorite Ice cream?

           What is writing all about? Snobs and Slobs.


    30:    The damnable j-word; Begin to edit handout 

           Blinking without thinking: read Handout    




Sept 4: Read Sin Boldly Chaps 1-4; Sign up for Class listserv

           to: listserv@listserv.gmu.edu

              subscribe engl302-soc-l firstname surname

           Writing Sample Due: Why do I vote as I do? Not “What                do I believe” but “Why do I believe it?”


     6:  Read Sin Boldly Chaps 5-10; Continue to edit handout 




     11: Read in SB Chaps 13-17 – Mechanics “review”

               Corrections Due


     13:   More mechanical review; practice quiz

           Read “The Blank Slate  (handout and ER)




    18:   Read Emerson’s “On Language”.  (ER)

             What is his point about writing?

              Class writing exercise


    20:   Computer Lab;  practice quiz

         Read Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” on www.

         Be prepared to explain his argument           




   25:   Research Seminar; continue mechanical review


   27:    Mechanics Test

            Download and bring in all assigned ereserve texts







Oct 2:   Read Orwell “Politics and the English Language” (ER)

         Paper Due: Define “Propaganda”   Bring in two copies


    4:   Cause and  effect; or the burden of contingency

          On ER, read Haskell’s “Persons as uncaused causes”   

          On ER, read Williams “Skinner and Edwards”




   8/9:   No Class Columbus Day

          Monday is Tuesday this week.


    11:   Corrections on Test due; Read Chapter 12 “Sin Boldly”




    16:     Read Joan Didion “On Morality” (ER)

              In one page, define Didion’s two types of                             “Morality.”

               Which definition suits you?

               How does this relate to the nature/nurture debate?


   18:     Read handouts on the Arab veil.   Be prepared to argue            a side: “Are these women free?   Are we?”  

               Read “The New Right and the Old Determinism” (ER)




    23:   Read “The genetic Fix: The Social origins of Genetic               Determinism” (ER)“Challenging Racism and Sexism” (ER)


    25:   Begin As Nature Made Him  Chapters 1-9




    30:   Finish   As Nature Made Him Chapters 10-end

           Paper Due: Book review of Colapinto

               Male and Female: Nature? Nurture? Or what?


Nov. 1:   Read “The Believing Brain  (on line)  




     6:   ELECTION DAY – Support Your Man! Interview at least 3             voters and find out why they vote as they do. 


     8:     Read “Mystery Dance” and “Double Mystery” (ER)





   13:     Begin Why Beautiful People have More Daughters,                       Introduction, chapters 1-3. Each student reports              in class  on a different chapter


   15:     Continue Why …   Corrections to Calapinto Paper due

              Choose a topic for your final paper




   20:      Finish up the reports on Why

              Begin research for your final paper


   22:      No Class  --  Thanksgiving Break






   27:   Read  Don’t Blame the Cave Man”   (ER)  

           Research final paper   


   29:   Read “Genes, the Environment, and Free Will” (ER)

           Research final paper




Dec 4:    Paper Due: Analysis of the scholarship on the causes of                some specific problem. 


    6:     Last class




Dec 11-12:    Reading Days