DISCLAIMER: This article was originally posted on Odyssey.
As an English major, what I have learned thus far in my own educational life is that it is one thing to attend class, but it does not end there; for what really matters is integrating the education and applying it to everyday life. This is a mission statement that the National Research Council has promoted. In which case, the concept of analysis is a strong basis for developing good argumentation.
In Jackson’s research of 138 universities (which included baccalaureate colleges, master’s colleges and research universities), he found that 92% of them instituted analysis as curricula for first-year students for their composition class. However, they make it clear that analysis is not strictly a school genre and can be used beyond the composition class and into different situations. What makes student analysis different from analysis outside of the classroom is the terminology that is used that is traced to poetics, linguistics, rhetoric and semiotics. Even before I majored in English, I was made to enroll in required classes in my first few semesters which involved analysis.
The very same analysis used in class assignments should be used in day-to-day life. Jackson, in his article, argued that students using their analyses in argumentative ways has shown by research to be a skill ingrained from the classroom. When I wrote my article about whether it was possible to reconstruct the Virginia Algonquian language, I examined research that effused a strong argumentation, such as work done by anthropologists and people who actually worked on the site of the Powhatan Indians. One situation for freshman college students is arguing a more developed opinion on any topic no matter how subjective it may appear, and not out of a simple inference. Indeed, I have truly benefited from being taught analysis as an English major when finding which dialogue, CGI, areas of setting and characterization does not fit in the Star Wars film series.
There are a wide variety of media to analyze that include essays, film, music, speeches, fiction and web pages. But to analyze means to ask “what?” but also “who? where? how? and probably why?,” to paraphrase Jeanne Fahnestock and Marie Secor from the Jackson article. Understanding the context of the artifact is a key characteristic of analysis, which is by comprehending what the intended audiences might interpret from the literature and films published in their time period. Jackson’s experience as a First-Year Composition professor taught him himself what textbooks and writing programs could not; which is that the context was missing from students’ analyses, even though they appreciated the works of FDR and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The opposition in Jackson’s article stated that analysis in first-year composition isn’t implemented the way it should because it is based on general writing skills and not about actively using them. I would argue that it would be because the students do not have the opportunities to implement such writing skills in their daily, non-educational lives. In other words, they would simply write their analyses, not experience them through situated evaluation. As such, that first-year composition class would only exist in the back of the students’ minds as yet another prerequisite class that was taken.
As Jackson pointed out in his article, people use analysis when they most need it, such as when a consumer reads a small-print contract or a widow reads fake charities. I can remember taking my Literacy Studies class exclusive to English majors and learned that it is not enough to be literate but to become an analytical reader in order to be an active participant of democracy. I will say that I tried to become, as Jackson would call, a citizen-critic. Although there was to be more research into how effective analysis can travel with a student, it is clear that it does occur. I also think it would help for First-Year composition courses to be focused not just on writing skills but also on rhetorical analysis. It would be one step in ensuring that universities are experiential opportunities, not a fancy, social club with biannual membership fees that cost tens of thousands of dollars.