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For three years I was a graduate instructor in the departments of Rhetoric and English at the University of Iowa. Occasionally people ask me for copies of my syllabi and such. For the moment, however, here's the most popular request: the final project assignment for the Rhetoric of Drugs.
In the course of this semester you’ve seen how a variety of organizations—from the official to the anarchist, from the CIA to the Merry Pranksters—have used, promoted, conceived of, and, in some cases, tried to control, drugs. Something about drugs seems to create communities, from the highbrow Millbrook to the commune in Easy Rider to the dope users Marlowe talks about on the Lower East Side. Often these groups form around some charismatic leader, such as Timothy Leary or Ken Kesey; sometimes they are created by a government agency (MK-ULTRA and the other CIA operations), and sometimes they arise simply from the coming together of people whose lives revolve around the taking of some kind of drug (peyote cults, crackhouses, the pads of 1960s-era Haight-Ashbury).
Your last assignment, as you may already have guessed, involves group work. Some of you are, I’m sure, already groaning in horror and having unpleasant flashbacks to high school physics lab. To alleviate some of the horror, let me tell you first that you will receive both individual and groups grades for this project, which should make it more difficult for people to get screwed or to benefit undeservedly. Some of you, however, will still be grimacing. To you I can say only that almost all jobs these days look for people who are “detail-oriented” and who “work well in groups.” (Sometimes they call this “being a team player.” They also frequently want people who are “pro-active,” but since I do not think this is a word, I shall not require it). The only way I know of to get better at working in groups is to do it: hence this project.
I have chosen topics which are of local interest and which will, I think, appeal to you. If for some reason you find yourself opposed to the group you are working with, or you are uncomfortable with the position they have taken, you are permitted to start your own group.
You will have an opportunity to caucus into one of three different groups to start with; the topics for each are described below. You will have some class time to meet with your groups, but it will probably also be necessary to meet outside of class at least once in order to put your materials together and practice your presentation.
The exact format of your assignment will be chiefly up to you: basically, you are to create a presentation designed to convince us about a drug or drug-related policy. Speech 3 will involve your group giving this presentation to the class; Essay 3 will consist of written material you provide to supplement your presentation.
In both the speech and the essay portions, each group member should contribute equally. Many of the things you produce will probably be works of group authorship, but any time one member is the primary or sole author of a work, that should be noted.
As you probably know, the UI is part of the Stepping Up Project, which provides universities with large sums of money so they can host activities that will help to curb binge drinking on college campuses. Has it been effective? Create a group that will assess the successes and failures of the Stepping Up Project and design an improved—or completely different—program to reduce problem drinking among college students. You may also want to consider the various changes that have been made by the City Council (such as limiting drink specials) or that are being considered by them (such as raising the entrance age for bars). Will these help or hurt the city’s drinking problems?
The Iowa City City Council is considering legislation that would ban smoking in restaurants and bars. Supporters say that smoking is a public health issue; detractors say that it is an individual choice and that banning it will unnecessarily harm the revenues of establishments where patrons smoke. Create a group that will work to support or to oppose (or possibly to offer alternative legislation) on the restaurant/bar smoking issue.
Nowadays, we’re fighting a “War on Terrorism,” but for many years, the United States has been engaged in a “War on Drugs.” Nationally, this has sometimes meant focusing on the effects: treating drug users, establishing more anti-drug education, etc., and sometimes on the causes: stopping drug trafficking and cracking down on drug dealers. Locally, the Iowa City Police Department and the City Council, along with other agencies and organizations, have fought with the same dichotomy. Sometimes they have focused on educational, preventative programs (DARE, etc.) and treatment programs; sometimes they have focused more on stopping drugs at the source (the Edward F. Byrne police grant, recently renewed, which requires officers to fulfill quotas of drug-related arrests and allows them to do “knock and talks,” etc.). Create a group that will study these various strategies and their effectiveness and which will endorse or create a plan for effective drug control in Iowa City.
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