AMCULT 103 - First Year Seminar in American Studies
Section: 001 Getting In
Term: WN 2013
Subject: American Culture (AMCULT)
Department: LSA American Culture
Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
Advisory Prerequisites:
Enrollment restricted to first-year students, including those with sophomore standing.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

Who is college for? What are the rituals of "getting in"? How does applying to and attending college affect individuals, families, high schools, and colleges? What are our assumptions about?educational opportunity?

This class will begin by looking at the labor of applying to college, especially the work of that peculiarly American document, the college application essay. Why do colleges emphasize stories of the self? Stories of community? What role do these kinds of stories play in admissions? What can we learn about American identities and ourselves as learners and citizens through an examination of this process?

Interdisciplinary readings will provide the tools that we need to address these questions historically, culturally, and in the context of public policy and law, including the University of Michigan’s past role in affirmative action debates and the most recent Supreme Court ruling on Fisher v. University of Texas. This is also a strongly writing-centered class. Students will write in response to the readings; they will also write about their own college application experiences while studying relevant national trends and debates.

Reading and other materials:

Short reading assignments will be on CTools; reading also includes three or four required paperback books. Readings include selections from Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House; Dewey “The School as Social Centre”; Cintron, "A Boy and His Wall"; Dunbar-Odom, Defying the Odds; Lemann, The Big Test; Stevens, Creating a Class: Elbow, Writing Without Teachers; and Brandt, Literacy in American Lives.

We will also pay attention to two films and news media coverage of educational issues, visiting leaders in the field, including a faculty member who lead a workshop on ethnographic interviewing, high school counselors, scholars of higher ed policy, legal commentators, representatives of the Center for Educational Outreach, and recent U-M alums. A field trip to U-M’s Bentley Historical Library will introduce students to a research assignment using documents that reveal the history of applying to the University of Michigan from the nineteenth-century to the present.

Choice of Final Research-Based Essay: Your final essay must be grounded in a research project. You have three choices: 1) research using Bentley Historical Library documents dealing with “getting in” at the University of Michigan; 2) research on a public policy issue relevant to college admissions or college success in the news; 3) For students who are actively involved in educational outreach programs, through a Project Community class, a program of the Center for Educational Outreach, or a student organization, an assessment and analysis of the aims, activities, and impact of the program. All topic choices require instructor consultation and approval.

Written work may include individual and group assignments such as critical response assignments, in-class freewrites, an ethnographic interviews, critical analysis of college admissions web sites or "how to get into college" books, and “Policy Watch” and “Culture Watch” oral presentations that serve as conversation starters. A draft of your final essay will be revised through peer editing for submission in final form; you will also give an oral presentation in order to share your findings with the class. Attendance required.

AMCULT 103 - First Year Seminar in American Studies
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
MW 10:00AM - 11:30AM
002 (SEM)
TuTh 1:00PM - 2:30PM
003 (SEM)
MW 1:00PM - 2:30PM
004 (SEM)
TuTh 11:30AM - 1:00PM
005 (SEM)
MW 10:00AM - 11:30AM
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.

Please note: you are required to have all four required books by January 9. It is fine to order used copies. When the assigned reading is in one of these books, I expect you to bring that book to class with you. I have carefully selected these books, which should be useful in other humanities or social science classes, and thus will form a useful part of your college library.
ISBN: 9780511013324
Literacy in American lives, Author: Brandt, Deborah, 1951-, Publisher: Cambridge University Press 2001
ISBN: 9780195120165
Writing without teachers, Author: Peter Elbow., Publisher: Oxford University Press 2. ed., [r 2007
ISBN: 9780674034945
Creating a class : college admissions and the education of elites, Author: Mitchell L. Stevens., Publisher: Harvard University Press 2009
ISBN: 9780374527518
The big test : the secret history of the American meritocracy, Author: Nicholas Lemann., Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1st rev. p 2000
Syllabi are available to current LSA students. IMPORTANT: These syllabi are provided to give students a general idea about the courses, as offered by LSA departments and programs in prior academic terms. The syllabi do not necessarily reflect the assignments, sequence of course materials, and/or course expectations that the faculty and departments/programs have for these same courses in the current and/or future terms.

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View Historical Syllabi
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