Gerald Graff wrote a really interesting column in the MLA newsletter this month, which pointed out that many undergraduate papers are asked to interpret a text in a vacuum.
I know that’s true of my undergraduate experience. Most of the time, I was specifically told not to cite criticism in my papers. No wonder I am struggling to “enter the conversation” to this day. For much of my academic career, no professor explained to me the importance of answering the “so what?” question or finding someone who disagreed with me.
I bring this up for two reasons: first, making students enter a conversation when they write any paper, in any class, is a compelling idea. Second, as Graff points out, in many academic genres (the conference talk, the job application, the dissertation abstract), it is vitally important to explain both why your project matters and why it may be controversial.