Essay 4:  Problem Solving (Collaborative), Invention Work

In everyday life, crisis is a constant.   Problems emerge in every facet of our existence:  In occupations, problems arise in working conditions, policy implementation, co-worker relations, labor/management relations, and governmental standards.  In our communities, problems such as homelessness, pollution, school violence, terrorism, and urban sprawl must be encountered daily.  While many of us have the privilege of ignoring such problems, someone, in some capacity, has to address them. Problem solving requires all of your skills as a writer.  You need to observe carefully to see if a problem exists.  You may need to remember experiences that illustrate the seriousness of the problem.  You need to read and investigate which solutions have worked and not worked.  You often have to explain what the problem is and why or how your proposal would remedy the situation.  You may need to evaluate both the problem and alternative solutions.  

Assignment:  As a member of a group of three or four, select one of the following scenarios: 
You are the member of an election (or re-election) campaign staff for a political candidate — a prospective senator, governor, president, etc.
You are a member of a citizen’s action group that is working for the passage of a voter referendum on the November ballot.

Focus your efforts on one particular controversial domestic issue, for example, affirmative action, immigration policy, education, law and order, health care, same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption, environmental issues (urban sprawl, the depletion of natural resources), bioethics (cloning, stem cell research), etc. (If you are working for a political candidate, recognize that there may be other issues in the campaign, but imagine that this particular issue is the crucial one at this particular time.)

Complete ALL of the following:

a.Brainstorming (5 minutes).  Focus your attention on controversial domestic issues that are considered problematic.  Brainstorm (quickly list) all memories, thoughts, and ideas that come to mind that are remotely connected to  these problems:  words, phrases, images, or complete thoughts.  You are merely making a "grocery list" here.  Do not use complete sentences.

b.Clustering (5 minutes).  Next, visually analyze your subject.  This is a visual scheme for brainstorming about your subject that should aid you in seeing relationships among your topics and subtopics, and give you a rough idea about an order or shape you may wish to favor for your essay.  Begin with one topic you wish to explore further from your brainstorming list.  Write it in the center of a piece of paper.  By free association, create a “spider web” by listing and linking all ideas that come to mind by connecting each idea to the next by drawing lines between them.

c.Looping (24 minutes).  Looping is a method of controlled freewriting that generates ideas and provides focus and direction.  Begin with a subject you wish to explore further from your clustering exercise.  Freewrite about your subject for eight minutes.  What are some causes of the problem?  What are some illustrations or examples of the problem? What are the most troubling or alarming images associated with the problem? What are the short-term effects? Long-term effects? How does this problem affect attitudes or behaviors? How might this problem snowball? What other situation (event, attitude) does this problem resemble? Next, pause, reread what you have written so far, and underline the most interesting or important idea in what you’ve written so far.  Then, using that sentence or idea as a starting point, write for 8 minutes more.  Repeat this cycle, or “loop,” one more time.  In this last loop, consider what action(s) will best address the causes of the problem.  How can that action (or set of actions) be implemented? What might stand in the way of this action? How could those involved overcome impediments? How will the action change the situation? Each loop should add ideas and details from some new angle or viewpoint, but overall you will be focusing on the most important ideas that you discover.