Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"Self-Reliance" Assignments

Assignment on Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”
Quotation Analysis Exercise (20 pts for content, 20 points for style)

Hopefully you have read this essay, otherwise, this is going to be tremendously taxing. Your job here is to teach the class what the following quotations from “Self-Reliance” mean. You will have ninety seconds per group member to do so starting Friday, the day after tomorrow. You may use any means at your disposal to accomplish this. You may break your discussion of the quotation among yourselves any way you see fit, but consider that you will each be scored individually. Bear in mind the diversity of depth, length and quality of our Thoreau assignments before the break. Some were brilliant and thoughtfully put together. Some were sloppy and half-hearted at best. Try not to be the group that squanders its time and slaps things together at the last moment, it will be obvious. In order to receive full credit for the content of your presentation, you must do the following:

Find the quotation your group has been given in its original context.
Discuss what it means within that context.
Discuss how it could be applied now.
Discuss what the impact of its current application might be.

Style credit will be awarded according to our Analytic Traits for speaking.

1. Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.
2. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.
3. Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.
4. What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.
5. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.
6. It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a revolution in all the offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; in their property; in their speculative views.
7. Traveling is a fool's paradise.
8. Insist on yourself; never imitate.
9. Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other.
10. The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet.
11. Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not.
12. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.

Assignment on Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”
Discussion Question Exercise (20 points for content, 20 points for style)

Below are your discussion questions for “Self-Reliance.” You will have ninety seconds per group member to respond to them in class one week from today. As you may have noticed from my seeming inability to approach such things in a consistent manner, questions like these can be approached and addressed in a variety of ways. Individually, cooperatively, competitively… It’s almost as if I’m just not quite sure of the one best way to do things, isn’t it? Given the subject matter here, I think it only fitting to leave you almost entirely to your own devices in deciding how you will deal with one of these questions. You may choose any single question below to answer. Please note, however, that if you choose a question already chosen by anyone else, you will be grouped together during your response time on Wednesday. So, things could work out like a group presentation, like a forum, like a debate, like an individual speech… It’s all up to you. Of course, everyone will have to rely on themselves for their grade.

Both Style and Content credit will be awarded according to our Analytic Traits for speaking.

1. How is Emerson's idea of Self-Reliance different from and similar to the common use of the term (take care of your own needs and don't depend on others outside yourself)?
2. Is Emerson really saying, "Believe anything you want to believe and do anything you want to do"? Is he really saying, "Nothing outside yourself matters"?
3. In what ways is Emerson speaking religiously -- that is, about our relationship to the divine?
4. Emerson's religious ideas are claimed today by groups as diverse as the Unitarian Universalists and the Mormons. Does this make sense? How have such different religious groups made use of Emerson's ideas, especially those in "Self-Reliance"?
5. How does Emerson's "Self-Reliance" inspire the environmental and sustainable growth movements today?
6. What would Emerson think of the survivalist movement?
7. What would Emerson think of 21st century American capitalism?
8. Would Emerson's ideas as expressed in this essay result in a stronger or weaker government? More or less democracy?
9. Was Emerson a liberal or conservative -- and in what ways? (You might also want to read Emerson's essay "The Conservative.")
10. What would Emerson think about today's libertarianism?
11. If you're familiar with the work of Ayn Rand, how is Emerson alike, how is he different?
12. What would Emerson say about the human capacity for good and for evil?
13. How have Emerson's ideas helped shape our concept of the American Dream?

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