“The American Dream” Project
Unit Reflection: The American Dream—Optimism and Disillusionment
We begin the Junior Theme at the conclusion of our unit centered on literature and ideologies of the 1920s through an exploration of the Harlem Renaissance and The Great Gatsby. This time in American history presents an incredible contradiction between the optimism of those clamoring hopefully towards an idealistic “American Dream” and those disillusioned by a society that is incredibly divided, presenting seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieving that dream—based on factors such as race, education, class, gender, citizenship, etc. We explored the perspectives of Harlem Renaissance artists and poets as they fight for recognition and rights for African Americans—Some with great optimism and others with great disappointment and anger, but all with a fighting spirit that longs for access to that “American Dream” promised by our forefathers. In the very same era, we explored the perspectives of an exclusive white society depicted in The Great Gatsby—a society that finds ways to limit access to the “dream” not just based on race, but for those without the right family name, education, or class. We have taken a hard “self-reflective” look at our American society through literature that sometimes optimistically celebrates the “bootstraps” ideal and often harshly reveals that the idea of the American Dream is a social construction, an illusion, and an impossibility for many Americans. So where do we go from here?
Junior Theme: Hope for What AmeriCAN Be
"Let America realize that self-scrutiny is not treason. Self-examination is not disloyalty. ~Richard Cardinal Cushing
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.”
~Howard Zinn “The Optimism of Uncertainty”
“The way in which privilege insulates us can't simply be renounced and then easily transcended. For me, it takes continual effort, marked by moments of real connection with others that deepen my sense of life, as well as continued failures to empathize deeply enough that remind me of the need for humility. It is part of the endless struggle to be human in a world saturated with so much suffering… It is in [this] plodding, I believe, that we can find hope for the future. We don't have to be perfect. We just have to keep trying to connect in a world that gives us many ways to disconnect if we choose. Each day we struggle to empathize, we hold onto our humanity. Each day we stay connected -- to ourselves and each other -- is another plodding step forward.” ~Robert Jensen “The Death of Empathy”
Writing a culminating research paper is a “rite of passage” for many stages of the academic journey. For example, when you get your master's degree, you typically write a thesis, and when you get your Ph.D., you write a dissertation. For the junior year at OPRF, you write the junior theme. In this project, you will define the American Dream, explore whether it is truly possible for Americans to achieve, and analyze what societal factors might make it more difficult for some Americans to reach this American ideal. Additionally, to prove your claim, you will research a case study--an individual or a group of people who faced obstacles in their endeavor to reach the American Dream. You will use the success, the failure, the persistence, the roadblocks outlined in this case study to support and prove your specific claim.
Why are we doing this? The story of America is not defined ONLY by a core list of texts taught in American Literature courses. The story of America is told from perspectives and voices that are often unheard and that we are constantly discovering. Sometimes this means asking ourselves tough questions, evaluating the authenticity and inclusivity of America’s story. I believe that your generation, like others before it, will find its voices and make its imprints on the history of American society and identity…and that the we must analyze and question the American values and ideologies currently in place to build a better future for ourselves.
Individual tasks: Each day in class, you are responsible for completing the objective on the calendar by the end of the period. You will receive points towards your formative process grade with each signature you receive on your Junior Theme Calendar/Checklist.
I-Search Pre-Writing: This will be written and submitted on Google Classroom early in the research process. This is the story of your research process. You will reflect on the following:
1) Why are you interested in the topic you have chosen?
2) What do you already know about your topic? What opinions do you already have about your topic/issue?
I-Search Reflection: This will be written and submitted on Google Classroom after you have completed your final draft.
1) The story of your research – What did you learn and how did it go? What steps were most challenging/exciting/surprising?
2) Your reflections on what you learned – How has this research impacted you? Have your opinions been strengthened or changed? How has your research been personal--How can you connect? What do you wish you knew more about?
Conference w/ teacher: You will have to conference with me once the rough draft is written. You will schedule this conference outside of class.
Introduction: In your essay, this will be 2 well-developed paragraphs.
●Definition: Begin with a paragraph that clearly establishes and exemplifies a working definition of the “American Dream.”
●Presenting the Debate: Once you have established the definition that will be the foundation of your paper, you will introduce the debate and respond to the prompt in a clear and concise THESIS STATEMENT: To what extent is the “American Dream” truly achievable by all? You must narrow your focus by naming one specific issue or challenge that complicates the attainability of the American Dream and preview your sub-claims.
Concession and Refutation (Yes… But): You must establish your own research credibility by acknowledging the truth and good will in at least ONE counter argument. (You are encouraged to incorporate and acknowledge the counterargument throughout your entire paper, but this portion of your paper is a very structured opportunity for you to develop your concession/refutation skills.)
They Say: Summarize a credible source that takes a position that is alternative to your own.
I Say (Concession): Yes… Acknowledge the truth and good will in this claim.
I Say (Refutation): But... ARGUE/Explain why that particular argument is limited and link your reasoning back to your THESIS STATEMENT
Evidence to support your main claim: You will then spend the remainder of your essay exploring a variety of types of evidence to refute that counterargument and to prove your THESIS STATEMENT.
●Case study: In your essay, you will incorporate and analyze ONE case study--a specific example of an American or group of Americans that faced significant obstacles in reaching the American Dream (success or failure).
●Scholarly Article Analysis: In your essay, you will incorporate and analyze at least one scholarly source that debates the obtainability of achieving the American Dream. You will analyze the article’s main claim, as well as its potential impact on your issue. Include proper citation. This can be one of the synthesis sources provided.
●Quantitative data analysis: Your research must incorporate at least one chart or graph, accompanied by analysis of how this quantitative data supports your main claim about the American Dream.